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38j> Keb. Jlpron ^fcama. 

plication of the Evolutionary Philosophy 
to the Christian Religion. Crown 8vo, 


Boston and New York. 












(fity Iftitarsi&e ®xes& Cambridge 



Copyright, 1892, 

All rights reserved. 

The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A. 
Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Company. 







That creation which speaks for itself in the lowest 
forms of organic life in due time manifests the wisdom 
of the Creator in the high department of morals and 
spiritual development. Religion falls into line as the 
last of a series of creations. If the time has already 
arrived when thinkers abandon the long-accepted 
dogma of creation by fiat, adopting in place of it the 
philosophy of creation by development, it will not 
be long before it will be seen that religion is also 
developed, and that revelation grows. The latter be- 
gins in the narrow, the confused, and the primitive ; 
it advances in proportion to the moral, intellectual, 
and spiritual advancement of men. 

" Like every other product of man's spiritual activ- 
ity," says Professor Abraham Kuenen, " the Israelit- 
ish religion has its defects, its one-sidedness, the faults 
of its virtues." Nothing is so important to us as 
Israel's religion, and that other and better religion 
which has grown, and is still growing out of it. That 
the revelation contained in Israel's religion, and in the 
Christian outgrowth, may be studied in the light of 
its historical development, a number of books have 


recently been written ; the present volume is a con- 
tribution to the same purpose. 

To read Kuenen and Wellhausen with attention, 
and appreciation of their devout and excellent scholar- 
ship, is to acknowledge the truth of some of their con- 
clusions ; and no careful investigator can now under- 
take the study of the construction of the Old Testament 
without consulting these eminent authors. 

More than that : if the philosophy of evolution be 
accepted by any one, as the only reasonable explana- 
tion of the Cosmos, no theory concerning the Bible 
which is invalidated by that philosophy can be main- 
tained by him. 

To those who are satisfied with the old views, an 
attempt to find better ones must seem audacious and 
perilous ; but there are many who are unable to con- 
tent themselves with the notion of the infallibility of 
the writers of the Bible ; to such this book is addressed 
by one who has pursued the study for the satisfaction 
of his own mind. 

He does not profess to be a critic, but one who has 
resorted to the critics and historical criticism for help. 

He has been aided, so far as the present volume is 
concerned, by such authors as Professors Wellhausen, 
Kuenen, Sanday, and Toy, Canon Driver, President 
Cone, Dr. Gladden, and others, both progressive and 


I. The New Method of Study . 

II. Divers Portions and Manners 

III. Ezra the Scribe 

IV. History-Making . 
V. Traditional Sources 

VI. Legendary Elements . 

VII. Prophecy 

VIII. From Gods to God 

IX. The Limitation 

X. The Fiction .... 

XL The Poetry 

XII. Greek Influence . 

XIII. Other Influences . 

XIV. The New Age 
XV. The First Christian Writings 

XVI. The Spiritual Basis 

XVII. The Miracles .... 

XVIII. Infallibility .... 

XIX. Paul and the Second Advent 

XX. The Apocalypse of John . 

XXI. The Certainties 

XXII. The Fourth the Gospel of the Present 

XXIII. Authorship of the Fourth Gospel . 

XXIV. Conflict and Harmony . 
XXV. The Sociological Religion of James 





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Tense 261 

. 287 




Bible study has come to be of two sorts. Until 
recently it has been understood that its one object 
is to discover what the Bible contains. Numerous 
questions ask themselves continually in the world of 
human experience. What answer does the Bible 
offer? In order to attain satisfactory information 
concerning the answer of the Bible to our questions, 
and to know very exactly the precise meaning of the 
answer, a most thorough investigation of the language 
of the Bible and of its grammar has been under- 
taken. Accordingly, the literature of comment, ex- 
position, and textual criticism is exceedingly abun- 
dant. The painstaking care expended upon criticism 
of the text is of a sort to cause astonishment. Every 
field of collateral usage has been ransacked to find 
material bearing on the subject. The microscope has 
not been employed more abundantly by experts of 
science in physical research than the microscopic vi- 
sion has been in Scriptural investigation. It lieth not 
within the wit of man to tell the greatness and the 
minuteness of the work done. But in respect to that 


department of Bible study it would not be rash to 
declare that it has already been carried very nearly if 
not quite to its limit. It does not appear probable 
that much more light will be shed upon the text of 
the Bible. 

Having gone thus far in that direction, Bible study 
has recently taken another. Let us be careful just 
here to make a necessary discrimination. I speak of 
a new department or direction. Attacks have been 
made upon the Scriptures from the time of their ap- 
pearance among men. Christianity at the beginning 
of its course was the subject of a great literary at- 
tack, remnants of which remain. Of course the books 
of the Christian literature formed to some extent the 
basis of that attack. That, and all of a like nature 
which has followed it, I do not speak of as study of 
the Bible. That study is carried on by those who 
find a value in the Bible ; who wish to secure that 
value, whatever it may be. It is not the object of 
any Bible student, properly so called, to destroy the 
Bible or to undermine its proper and reasonable in- 
fluence. His object is to discover just what the Bible 
is, and how it came to be what it is. 

The easy way has been almost universally to assume 
that the Bible is the infallible word of God. It is 
such an assumption as has been made by millions in 
the case of the Koran and in the case of other reve- 
lations. Joseph Smith was informed by an angel that 
at a certain spot he would find a book. He proceeded 
to that spot and found a book composed of gold 
pages ; and these pages were covered with some sort 
of unintelligible writing. By the aid of a pair of 
supernatural spectacles he was enabled to translate 
this tongue into the vernacular. Thus came to human 


knowledge the Mormon Bible. 1 How many thousands 
of people have assumed that Joseph Smith did not 
tell a lie about the matter, I am unable to say. We 
assume, I suppose, that he did lie, or that some one 
did. We have, on the whole, a better ground for our 
assumption than they have for theirs. Upon them 
lies a burden of proof which seems never to have been 
appreciated by them. 

Upon modern Christian scholarship has been found 
to rest an obligation not imposed upon our fathers, 
an obligation to offer some proof as to the alleged 
nature of the Bible. Such proof was not definitely 
called for while people were yet superstitiously in- 
clined to accept things unquestioningly. It certainly 
is called for now, and it is responded to by an in- 
creasing number of Christian scholars and believers 
in the authenticity and value of the Bible. Thus has 
arisen that phenomenon which has taken, perhaps 
somewhat fortuitously, the name of the " higher crit- 

Many reasons exist why the Bible should now be 
studied in the new way, but there is one which possi- 
bly includes them all. An English writer offers a 
suggestion bearing upon the point. He says that all 
progress is coordinate. 2 " The consequence of this 
is," he goes on to say, " that a barbarous age must 
have a barbarous jurisprudence, and consequently a 
barbarous theology. We must see and admit that 
culture in one direction presupposes culture in every 
other." He then cites the fact that tran substantia- 
tion, or the corporeal presence of Christ in the bread 
and w T ine of the mass, did not strike the religious 

1 Dr. Gladden's Who Wrote the Bible ? p. 3. 

2 J. B. Heard, Old and New Theology. 


people of the tenth century as absurd, because they 
believed in the transmutation of one metal into an- 
other. Their science affirmed this transmutation of 
metals ; and their theology affirmed the transmutation 
of bread into flesh. Bad science helped thus to make 
bad theology, or at least the two were coordinate. 
Now the idea has prevailed largely in the best portion 
of the world that the creation of the earth was a sud- 
den work of supernatural power, effecting the imme- 
diate result of a very complex world, composed of 
divers elements, and all produced out of nothing. 
The notion of almightiness was such that it was sup- 
posed to be quite easy for God to make something out 
of nothing. If something could be made out of no- 
thing, were that something no more than a grain of 
sand, it followed that the making of a vast globe 
would present no insurmountable difficulties to the di- 
vine power ; and so the world came into existence. 

That was the science of the past : and the religion 
of the past corresponded therewith. Here is the 
Bible, which is recognized by the Christian population 
of the world as the revelation. While there was no 
definite knowledge of how it came to be, it might have 
been claimed that it too was made out of nothing. 
God put commands and ideas into the mind of Moses 
and others. He put them thus in the mind, without 
reference to anything precedent. Thus the law of 
Moses descended out of the residence of God in the 
sky, as by a burst or sudden irruption of it upon the 
people gathered at the foot of an Asiatic mountain. 
The revelation was therefore created, not out of ma- 
terials already existing in the world, but out of that 
which up to that time had not existed below the sky. 

It seems to have been reserved for the present cen- 


tury entirely to reverse the old conception of a more 
ignorant science in regard to the creation of the earth. 
The earth grew. The theory now is that it was cre- 
ated, by coming to be in its present forms, through 
perpetual modifications of previous forms. 

The corresponding theory in regard to the Bible, 
considered as revelation, is that it also grew in hu- 
man thought, that it grew out of previous and more 
imperfect thinkings; and that by changes, adapta- 
tions, and by what we may call the editorial work be- 
stowed upon it, it became in due time the book we 
now possess. 

A peculiar sentiment in respect to the Bible has been 
influential throughout Christendom. The sentiment, 
like most of our sentiments, has not been definite and 
accurately describable. It expresses itself in words 
which separate the Bible from all other books. Other 
books are men's books ; the Bible is God's book. Other 
books are of a sort to be known as secular or even 
profane. The history in the Bible has been called 
sacred ; and the history outside of it has been known 
as profane history. And thus the Bible has had a 
place accorded no other book in Christendom. If 
God has given us a book, we must treat that book with 
more reverence than any other. We must hold in 
check our criticisms of it. " Who art thou that re- 
pliest against God ? " If the Bible makes a declara- 
tion, it must be humbly accepted as a final declaration, 
from which there is no appeal. We may do what we 
please with other books; but we must treat God's 
book with the respect due the revelation of the Al- 

Such has been the sentiment. If any persons have 
not shared the feeling, they have been classified often- 


times as profane and infidel persons and scoffers. It 
is possible that some of them deserved such classi- 
fication. It is probable that such a classification does 
many of them rank injustice. Anything presenting 
itself to us for our inspection is likely to encounter in 
us the feeling of approbation, or the contrary. We 
use our judgment upon a phenomenon and make up 
our minds as to its character. If we so hold it aloof 
from our judgment as to neglect to consider its char- 
acter, then it is of little moment to us. 

Now the Bible is a book found in almost all house- 
holds. It is bound in a cover, it is printed in a lan- 
guage ; it publishes certain propositions of various 
sorts. -.It is precisely as much subject to our judg- 
ment as are the rocks which lie underneath the soil, 
or the plants which grow in the soil. If it is said 
" God made the book," and we are to reverently rec- 
ognize his hand in it, it ought also to be said that God 
made the rocks and roses, and we ought reverently to 
recognize his hand in them. When God makes any- 
thing he invites our judgment upon it. As a matter 
of fact, we have always been very free in our notions 
of nature; and men have gone so far as to regard 
nature in a serious sense accursed. They have blamed 
wind and weather, and grumbled unceasingly and with- 
out the suspicion of irreverence at many things. 
Yet these things were in verity God's things. To 
take exception to the book has not been tolerated. 
That shows a confused state of mind. We need clear- 
ance of that confusion. If God had authentically 
written every word of the Bible, if he had caused all 
the printing, and the arrangement of it, and the very 
binding itself to be done in heaven, it would be still 
open to men for their inspection and criticism. Our 


irreverence consists in being slaves to God, or think- 
ing ourselves such, and not daring to use the gifts he 
has bestowed on us, and so increasing them. 

The Bible was not written in heaven. God did 
not write one word of it, except secondarily. The 
only theory which has had any real ground in intelli- 
gent modern thought is that God did inspire the peo- 
ple who wrote the Bible. I Moreover, it is part of the 
theory of modern times that inspired men, like other 
men, are subject to error. It is conceivable that one 
might have particular power and discernment in one 
direction, or as to some special subject, but be quite 
uninspired in regard to other matters. 

He who excels in mathematics does so because the 
power is bestowed upon him. He did not create the 
power. He is not an independent being, standing 
alone and original. His excellence in one department 
may go with defect in other departments. Now the 
highest excellence is a divine product in human char- 
acter and thought. It is inspiration, but it does not 
guard the subject of it from that human defect which 
we are compelled to recognize everywhere. 

Our experience is that human beings are imperfect. 
That is one thing of which we are sure. There is 
another thing of which we have come to be equally 
sure, namely, that the human race has once been far 
behind its present knowledge of all things. Our 
human notions have been changing, slowly at first, 
more rapidly now. 

It is by this change we approach more perfect 
knowledge. Thus it is that the more primitive men 
spoke from least information. They spoke as moved 
by the Holy Spirit, we are told, but the Holy Spirit 
moves in a realm of the incomplete. 


It is proposed in this book to give in a simple man- 
ner some view of the results of recent Bible study. 
In doing so, certain principles of interpretation and 
criticism will be employed : — 

First. The Bible is a part of creation. 

Second. The order of creation is one of progress 
and improvement. 

Third. All progress is coordinate. 

Fourth. The Bible is to be studied as any book 
would be studied. It is properly subject to human 

Fifth. Its contents furnish to a large extent the 
means for its investigation. 

We study the earth by that which we find it con- 
tains. We have made out its history in the vast pe- 
riods of the past by the things which remain. We 
know that some geologic periods were earlier in time 
than others. In the same manner we study the Bible. 
It is literature. It is a group of separate documents 
gathered from human experience covering a period 
of a millennium. There is little contemporaneous lit- 
erature in the light of which we may investigate the 
earlier portions of the Bible. A period about eight 
centuries before our era marks the place at which 
modern scholarship begins the study of the Biblical 

We now come to the object of this sort of study. 
It is thought that the religious nature of man has no- 
thing to do with criticism. Our Bible is given for the 
support and instruction of a religious life, and if we 
are led off into investigations of a critical sort, we shall 
lose religious fervor. The objection, while it may have 
a certain force, is oblivious of the fact that much of 
the religion of the present rests on false bases. Every- 


thing has been taken for granted. In the divine 
Providence it has now come about that much of the 
devout scholarship of the world is engaged in restate- 
ments. Conservatives have been afraid of the results 
of the newer scholarship ; have been timid in letting 
people know what is going on. 

It seems to me high time that the people should 
have information concerning the movements which 
have not been exposed to them. That they should 
have a clear understanding of the main features of 
the work of the great scholars. Cardinal Newman 
had the fear that truth itself might make a damage 
in the world, if it were too freely spoken. He ac- 
quired the habit of asking of a truth whether it was 
safe or not. It was that habit which led him to re- 
lapse into the bosom of the mediaeval church. We 
need have no such fears. Religious truth, truth con- 
cerning the Bible and its origin, the method of its 
creation so far as we can discover it, must be of ad- 
vantage to all who acquire it. Therefore I invite at- 
tention to the studies of the scholars who are making 
a new Christian scholarship, the real end of which 
is to enable us to live more intelligently and more 
religiously, and less superstitiously. 



Two questions in respect to the Bible, scholarship 
has asked, and is now endeavoring to answer. The 
importance of the questions is that upon their answers 
depend the idea we shall have of the nature of the 
Bible. These two questions are, first, " When was the 
Bible written ? " and, second, " How was it written ? " 
Let us give heed at present to the first question, and 
the answer furnished by modern religious scholarship. 

In the first verse of the Epistle to the Hebrews these 
words occur : " God, having of old time spoken unto 
the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in 
divers manners." God did not speak all at once, and 
once for all, but distributed his communications in the 
manner indicated. !For a very long time, therefore, 
there was no Bible. There came to be a Bible-mak- 
ing age. When that age arrived, then the things 
which were said in divers portions and divers manners 
by prophets and others were collected into one collec- 
tion, known first as the " sacred writings," or for the 
most part, simply as the "writings," or Scriptures. 
There came a time when some person of adequate 
genius and comprehensive skill undertook to make a 
Bible out of materials scattered and incoherent. This 
person massed together that of human experience 
which appeared to him most important, and thus came 
into existence a collection of before disconnected writ- 


ings and traditions, in a form which became the nu- 
cleus of a nation's hope and aspiration and religious 
feeling. That is the natural way of explaining the 
method in which the Bible came into existence. 

If a man constructs houses, he goes to one quarry 
and gets stones fit for foundations ; to another quarry 
for a finer quality of stone, fit for the upper portion 
of his building. He goes into one forest and gets 
trees of one sort, for one purpose, into another forest 
and gets a different quality of wood for other pur- 
poses. He mines down in the earth for iron, and 
makes both tools and materials. Thus from that 
which had been in divers portions and manners, he 
constructs an edifice which had not been in existence 
before. (It can hardly be doubtful, I suppose, to the 
student, however doubtful it may be to others, that 
the Bible was constructed as really as any court-house 
or music-hall is constructed. It came into being as 
a human production as really as anything else which 
has ever become extant among us. 

When were these various portions written? I 
mean, of course, with relation to each other. Were 
the first five books written first ? Were the next two 
written next ? and so on. It has become possible to 
answer these questions. A vast amount of knowledge 
comes to us, directly and indirectly, from comparing 
things with each other. We go all over the earth, 
and compare the products of different regions with 
each other. We compare climates, for one thing. We 
compare the animals and the plants and the various 
tribes and races of mankind with each other. No 
one can doubt that it is a most useful process. 

Then we proceed to compare the habits and doings 
of people. We look at the dwellings of people long 


dead, and arrive at some knowledge of how those peo- 
ple who occupied the dwellings must have lived. For 
instance, we go into New Mexico and gaze upon the 
old habitations of the cliff-dwellers. We distinguish 
them from all other people, and identify them as cliff- 
dwellers. They contrived to climb up the precipi- 
tous cliff, and burrow in the rocks there, making for 
themselves a kind of nest, like the bank-swallow, at 
some height above the common level. Now in their 
domestic economies, people have never been in the 
habit of doing very many unnecessary things, and 
persisting in so doing. Therefore we search for the 
necessity of the great exertion required by these peo- 
ple in hollowing out these dwellings, perched thus on 
high. They proposed to make them inaccessible. 
They had that way of defense against roving and war- 
like tribes. They themselves, we therefore infer, 
were not so warlike and fierce as their neighbors ; they 
were more defensive than aggressive. We go on 
by comparison and reach a certain definite knowledge 
of these people, who may have long since become ex- 
tinct on the earth. Then other peoples have built 
their dwellings on the level, of branches and twigs of 
trees, covered them with weather-proof clay, and 
erected a kind of stockade around their village. In 
certain localities that sort of erection marks a period 
of the development of the people of that region. 

Along the valleys and passes of the mountain re- 
gions in Europe, crowning every spot of vantage, 
stands the ruin of a castle. That ruin marks a period 
known as the feudal. It locates itself at a certain 
definite time in the annals of the world. Equally, 
the remnants of dwellings built upon posts driven in 
the water on the shallow margin of Swiss lakes mark 


a far earlier mode of defense. The men of each pe- 
riod, — perhaps very widely separated in time, — being 
dead, yet speak to us by that which remains; but 
lake-dwelling, cliff-dwelling, and castle become obso- 
lete, and pass into the stage of record and ruin. 

If the dwellings and defenses of ancient people tell 
us a story which we can read, much more does the lit- 
erature of a people tell us its story. If literature be- 
gins in some kind of sign language and hieroglyphic 
art, in tomb and temple inscriptions, it goes on to em- 
body itself in larger and more enlightening form as 
time goes on. It is in the literature of the past that 
we discover the most clear and comprehensive record 
of the feelings and philosophy and religion and morals 
of an age. Moreover, it is by the literature of a peo- 
ple that we are able to identify the time of the golden 
or most progressive and prosperous age of that people. 

But we must not expect exactness. We go to a 
considerable extent upon the ground of probability 
and inference. This has its disadvantages, especially 
to a certain class of minds, but it really makes no 
serious defect in the method itself. If our knowledge 
is simply approximate, so is the knowledge of the 

A journey of a hundred thousand miles undertaken 
by one of us would be a very great affair indeed. 
We might have to encircle the world with our tracks 
several times ; but for a ray of light it is no great 
matter. In the ethereal distances we do not lay much 
stress upon the inaccuracy of a hundred thousand 
miles. We have not yet determined the distance of 
our planet from the sun in anything less than millions 
as the unit. The students of history, if they go back 
far enough in the annals of time, find themselves 


unable to give us the dates we would perhaps like to 
have. Events came to pass, we know. Before them 
were events of which we know simply that they were 
antecedent ; and that, for very distant events, is prac- 
tically all we require to know. 

Literature known as sacred, or other, has its eras. 
A certain method of literature belongs to certain pe- 
riods, as the Elizabethan era, and the like. We know, 
it is true, the date of the issue of some of Shake- 
speare's plays : we know the date of other important 
writings. Contemporaneous with the English period 
mentioned there was an era somewhat similar in the 
Low Countries. We have ascertained by the critical 
work of our scholars that Milton wrote "Paradise 
Lost " and other poems after the Dutch poet Vondel 
had written poems upon the same themes. Further 
than that, it is quite evident that Milton must have 
been a reader of Vondel before he wrote " Paradise 
Lost," or while he was writing it. Milton nowhere 
tells us that he read Vondel, and, so far as we know, 
none of his contemporaries have recorded such an 
opinion, but the student of the subject to-day is quite 
as certain that Milton had read Vondel as if Milton 
had declared the fact in plain language. So, then, it 
might be established beyond a question that a certain 
two poets were contemporaries, and that one wrote 
a little before the other. 

Among our facts gathered by inference, but quite 
as surely known as almost any other facts, is this, that 
the Homeric poems antedate the Greek dramatists. 
As it is with other writings, so is it also with the 
sacred Scriptures. We are able to discover, from in- 
ternal and other evidence, relatively when the books 
which compose the volume were written. 


As illustrating the mode of ascertainment still fur- 
ther : certain words have recently come into vogue 
which were not coined a century ago. If, therefore, a 
poem were published in some volume of old poems, or 
purporting to be old poems, issued now as a new edi- 
tion, and if this poem bore the date of 1780, for ex- 
ample ; and if in the poem were found the words " tel- 
ephone," or " phonograph," or " steam-locomotive ; " 
or if allusions were made to Abraham Lincoln, Queen 
Victoria, the battle of Waterloo, Black Friday, or 
Prince Bismarck, we would know at a glance that the 
date was wrong. It might be a mistake of the printer, 
or the date of one poem had been applied to another ; 
or through ignorance, or willful purpose, or jest, this 
misplacement of a date had taken place ; but the 
evidence that there was an error would be absolutely 
unmistakable. 1 

There are many ways of determining whether a doc- 
ument was written after or before the beginning of the 
Christian era, just as there are means of determining, 
incidentally, that Paul was an earlier writer than Peter, 
for Paul's epistles were already extant among the 
people when the author of Peter's letter wrote. \It 
must have been so from the evidence afforded by the 
incidental remark of Peter that in Paul's writings 
were things hard to be understood. He had there- 
fore read those things and found them difficult. 

I have thus sketched those common methods which 
are employed by students in determining when differ- 
ent t portions of the Bible were written, but I have 
given only a few specimens of the ways of literary 
critics. All we require to know is that there are 

1 Dr. Gladden gives a more striking illustration, Who Wrote 
the Bible ? p. 174. 


modes, dictated by common-sense, and of universal 
application, which are used in the study of the Bible. 

By study it has become ascertainable that the first 
parts of the Bible were not written first. When we 
take up a book, if we read the preface first, because 
that first stares us in the face, we involuntarily think 
of that as having been first written. Probably, in nine 
cases out of ten, it was written last. Usually, a man 
does not know how to write the introduction to his 
book until he has found out for himself what his book 
has come to be. Now we open our Bibles, and first of 
all begin with the beginning. We naturally suppose, 
from the arrangement, that the first word was first 
written ; but the student brings a great many tests to 
bear upon that matter, and by his tests, which are 
required by common-sense and literary criticism, he 
becomes very sure that the first book in the Bible was 
by no means the first produced. Beginnings do indeed 
come first in the order of nature, but not in the order 
of thinking. That is to say, description of beginnings 
comes late because such description is difficult, and 
much has to be learned before one knows origins and 

The common notion, gained we hardly know how, 
has been that a great man of the remote past, Moses 
by name, wrote the book of Genesis for our Bible. 
This notion has become so embodied in religious 
thought, and so belongs to reverence for the Bible, 
that a distinguished theologian of Princeton not long 
ago asserted that the Bible would be gone from us, 
and religion with it, or somewhat to that effect, if 
Moses did not write the books commonly attributed 
to his authorship. That statement is instructive, but 
it also escapes being amusing by only a little. For it 


might be paralleled with a saying that if Shakespeare 
did not write the plays credited to him we should have 
no book of that title left, and the dramatic art itself 
would suffer destruction. I think we might deal with 
any assertion of a similar kind in the same way. If 
the old notions of the substance of the earth came to 
be put aside, as they were, we still have the earth left, 
and can manage to live upon it after some fashion. 

It seems to become plainer every day to critical and 
Christian scholarship that Moses did not write the 
five books which have been ascribed to him. To the 
rationalists among the critics it is quite as evident that 
Moses did not write the book of Genesis and the 
other books of the Pentateuch, as that nails of the 
sort known as " cut nails " were not made in the ear- 
lier times. The material which goes to the construc- 
tion of the cut nail is very ancient, but the making is 
modern. As the age of nail-making by machinery 
is comparatively recent, so the age of Bible-making 
came long after the time of Moses. Probably that 
would be admitted by the most strenuous advocate of 
the conservative view. At the same time such an ad^ 
vocate would affirm that Moses wrote that portion of 
the Bible — or at least edited it — which is known as 
the Pentateuch. This is becoming more and more 
doubtful every day. The reason why that doubt 
grows to a certainty is that the time of Moses did not 
admit of such writing or such editorial work as has 
been attributed to him. If we find that the earlier 
part of the Bible was spoken of in the New Testament 
as the work of Moses, if we find that Jesus speaks 
of " Moses and the prophets," it will be well for us 
to remember that the fruits of an age are not infre- 
quently grouped under the name of some great per- 


sonage of that age. The age of Pericles, or of Charles 
the Great, is identified by the great names of the great 
personages. It is a matter of convenience, and not a 
matter of critical accuracy. 

It is natural to look for the best literary work of 
any people, not in their less mature period, and not 
while they are most busily engaged in wars of con- 
quest or defense, but when they have acquired their 
best experience, and have developed their best moral 
and intellectual strength. The evidences are abun- 
dant that Israel did not reach its best until long after 
the time of Moses. 

An incident in the history of that people had a most 
important bearing upon the future of the world. This 
incident was looked upon as a calamity, and was in 
fact such ; but calamities, personal and national, may 
prove of the utmost importance in the work of a per- 
son or a people. There came a time when the Jews 
were overpowered by the superior forces of the East- 
ern empire, and were reduced to vassalage. There is 
something almost unique in this experience. The 
tradition runs, that when the progenitors of the twelve 
tribes went into Egypt, during a famine, and were 
hospitably received there, they were afterward re- 
duced, to slavery, and that of the most bitter sort. 
The ancient way of disposing of conquered peoples 
was at one time to kill them. Afterward the modifi- 
cation of that cruelty was to make slaves of the con- 

It is noticeable that when the Assyrian army com- 
pelled the surrender of the Jewish capital, they de- 
stroyed the city and the sacred temple, deporting 
the more valuable of its contents, but they did not 
make slaves of the inhabitants. Indeed, an imperial 


policy, which policy was then new in the world, favors 
the welfare of a conquered people, so far as that is 
consistent with the welfare of the empire. The Jews, 
therefore, were treated with consideration, although 
from motives of policy they were removed from the 
soil, and taken to the Babylonian provinces far to the 
eastward. This, which was to the Jews a fearful ca- 
lamity, and all the more sorrowful to them because 
their affections and their religious feelings were so 
intimately associated with the temple, was neverthe- 
less a very great blessing. It broke them out of their 
narrow exclusiveness, and brought them in contact 
with other peoples, who were perhaps foremost at that 
time in philosophy, art, and learning. 

Our world is small, so long as we remain affixed to 
the soil where we were born. It is the old story of 
the eagles, securely nested and content, finding their 
nest broken up, and themselves pitched out of it and 
compelled to fly. It is a hard ordeal, but it is what 
makes eagles of the young birds. Judah, conquered 
by the imperial army, its old habitation broken into 
and broken down, and its people deported to the 
plains of Shinar, received an impetus which served it 
in its mission as nothing else at that time could. It 
had preserved an exclusive spirit and a spirit of hatred 
toward other nations. 

There were surprises in store for it. There was a 
new mine of learning opened for its seers and wise 
men. Moreover; the humanity and even religious 
earnestness of the Persian conquerors of the Assyrian 
empire, by their friendliness, threw new light on old 
laws. The old narrowness was invaded by breadth. 

Cyrus was reckoned to be within the mercy and 
purpose of Jehovah; he was a man girded divinely 


for his work. 1 After the days of the captivity were 
over, those patriot Jews who returned to their old 
home had more light than their captive fathers had 
possessed. They, or their leaders, wished to commit 
the old religion to a form more permanent than the 
old and somewhat chaotic traditions. They wished to 
put the new light into the old thoughts. It is evident 
enough, if one will be at pains to examine, that at the 
close of the captivity, Judah had arrived at the begin- 
ning of a golden period of Bible-making. It was 
then, for the first time, that the " scribe," or literary 
man, made his appearance, and began his work. J 

Far more than the old temple and the old city walls 
and the old houses were rebuilt. The old law, and 
the old Mosaic traditions, and the old chaotic and 
scattered chronicles were also rebuilt, and the glory 
of the later house in that regard was vastly superior 
to that of the earlier house. The library of sacred 
literature was made. The hymns and the proverbs, 
and the laws and the legends, and the greater poems 
were made, not out of new material, but of the mate- 
rial afforded by the national traditions and feelings. 

So we may say with a degree of certainty that 

the Bible as we now have it began to be made, not in 

the days of Moses, and not in the days of Samuel 

and David and Solomon, but long afterward, in the 

days of Ezra the scribe, or the first literary men of 


1 Isaiah xlv. 1-5. 



It may be said that two Bibles were in use at the 
time of the opening of the Christian era. It is true 
that the one which was used in Jewish synagogues was 
still in an unfinished state at that time. There was 
some dispute among the learned as to the admission 
of some of the books we find in our Bible into the 
list of the sacred books. So that the question was 
still open as to what the Bible actually was. There 
was another Bible somewhat different from the He- 
brew, and which was published in Greek. The He- 
brew was mainly the language of religion, — as is the 
Latin in the Roman Church. It was not the language 
commonly spoken by the Palestinian people. They 
used a tongue known as the Aramaic. For more com- 
mon use, as in the households of the rich, or in schools, 
it is probable that the Greek Bible was most in vogue. 
It was this Bible from which the larger portion of 
the quotations made by the apostles and Christ came ; 
but this Bible, written in the Greek tongue, differed 
in important respects from the Hebrew scrolls. It dif- 
fered chiefly in containing much more than the He- 
brew Bible. 

We discover in our Bibles at present one book of 
Ezra. It is a short book of ten chapters. In the 
Greek Bible, from which Jesus and some of the apos- 
tles quoted, there are in addition two books of Ezra. 


These additional books are quite lengthy in compari- 
son. In the Bibles which contain them they are called 
the books of Esdras. Esdras is simply the Greek way 
of spelling the Hebrew word Ezra. Moreover, the 
genealogy given of the supposed writer, Esdras, is the 
same as that of Ezra, in the short book in our common 

Now the fact that Jesus and his apostles made some- 
what copious quotations from this Greek Bible gives 
rise to the probability that it was in more common 
use than the Hebrew Bible, of which it was supposed 
to be a translation. Ezra certainly appears to have 
occupied a very important place in the annals of the 
nation. He was not only a great reformer, but in an 
important sense a prophet ; but his peculiar value to 
the Jewish nation seems to have been connected with 
his literary work. If we are to give any credit to the 
books in the Greek Bible which bear his name (even 
though written later than his time), it will become 
evident that his work was second in importance to no 
other in all the history of Israel. 

It is an orthodox opinion (or has been until re- 
cently, and now it is a little difficult to tell precisely 
what an orthodox opinion is) that because Jesus re- 
ferred to the Old Testament, and drew many things 
from the Old Testament, therefore the Old Testament 
as we now have it must be an infallibly true docu- 
ment. Since Jesus appears to have been acquainted 
with the Greek version of the Old Testament, and 
inasmuch as this version contains much that we now 
commonly reject, it is quite evident that there is no 
proof of infallible truth in the fact that Jesus quoted 
from the Bible then in existence. 

Many things in the writing of Ezra, contained in 


the two long books bearing his name, appear incredi- 
ble, and there need be no quarrel with those who 
determined what the Old Testament should be, because 
they rejected these books. Yet these books contain 
statements which throw light upon our Bible, and also 
show the eminent service of Ezra the scribe. 

It appears that Ezra was born and was educated in 
Babylonia ; that he had his training with a number 
of other remarkable men. The probabilities are that 
he above all other men of his nation had the instinct, 
if we may so say, of literature. He responded to the 
influences around him. His fervent religious spirit 
found a task for him; it was to give to his nation 
the teachings of Jehovah, and of the wise men of 
the past, in the more durable form of a sacred collec- 

Now the wise men of that age, as well as other an- 
cient ages, were accustomed to speak much in an 
oracular form. In all the ancient literature, the priest, 
or prophet, or the sage consulted by the people as a 
guide, had a peculiar method of speech. [He did not 
tell his story in plain language, but in figures of 
speech;. So much was the figure of speech the mode 
of such talk that we, in our time, think the ancients 
were always speaking fables. The prophet or other 
guide of the people, who was subject to vivid im- 
pressions, put forth those impressions in statements 
we find hard to believe ; indeed, it is quite impossible 
to believe them. As I read the books of Esdras, it 
seems almost probable that it was never intended that 
the statements should be believed in their literal form. 
The words of wise men were given for wise men, that 
is, for those who could seek the meaning couched in 
parables, stories, and fables. 


Ezra tells us that he was sitting one day under an 
oak, and that there came a voice out of a bush near 
by. This voice called him by name. Ezra arose and 
answered, " Here I am, Lord." Then the Lord an- 
swered him out of the bush, reminding him that it 
was from a bush God had talked with Moses long 
before : it was from the bush Moses went to lead the 
people of Israel out of bondage into Canaan. 1 

It was time for the same thing to happen again. 
Israel was in captivity, though not of the bitter sort, 
and the period of the captivity had elapsed. There 
must now be a new Moses to lead the people out of 
captivity back to the land of promise. The voice 
speaks to Ezra, and Ezra answers. It is through this 
conversation that one may learn the state of things in 
Israel at that day. Ezra is to go upon his mission, 
and to make a new start for the nation. He tells the 
Lord that the law is burnt, and therefore " no man 
knoweth the things which God does." The idea con- 
veyed is that the precious scrolls or tablets had been 
destroyed. If Moses had committed anything to writ- 
ing, or if his successors had done so, the remnant of 
that had suffered destruction in the calamities which 
had come upon the house of Jacob. All that work 
must be done over again. 

Therefore, as the story goes, Ezra is directed to 
gather the people, and bid them let him alone for the 
space of forty days. It was for the same space that 
Moses had been away from the people in communica- 
tion with God. Having thus warned the people, Ezra 
is directed to prepare suitable materials for writing, 
and take with him five ready writers. He did as com- 
manded, and the next day heard a voice bidding him 
1 2 Esdras xiv. 


drink what should be offered him. What he drank 
was of the appearance of fire. After drinking that 
potion the spirit of understanding was strong in him, 
and he spoke many things. The Highest gave un- 
derstanding to the five men, and they wrote the won- 
derful visions of Ezra. Ezra tells us that his mem- 
ory was strengthened, and that as a result of his 
visions a large number of books were written during 
the forty days of his seclusion. We are unable to 
determine whether the number of books thus prepared 
was two hundred and four, or nine hundred and four ; 
but it was a large number. It is in such a manner 
that we are told of the making of a collection of sacred 
books. We infer that for a long period, lasting at 
least seventy years, the sacred scrolls and other ma- 
terials of the Jews had been out of existence. It is 
very natural to think that when a city has been 
destroyed by conquerors, its temple and other build- 
ings razed to the ground, its sacred scrolls would be 
burned, or otherwise disposed of. So that if Moses 
had written the five books of the Pentateuch, as many 
think he did, and if later writers had written other 
books, such as the books of Gad the seer and Nathan 
the prophet, and the like (which books are mentioned 
in our Bible as having once existed), it would appear 
probable that these books had all suffered destruc- 
tion. The tradition which is embodied in the books 
of Ezra alludes to the strengthening of the memory 
of the scribe. The use of memory is not to originate 
something, but to recall the events and sayings of 
the past. 

Before we dismiss the feat of memory displayed by 
Ezra, it will be well to remember that the Buddhists 
believe that the works of Gautama, the Buddha, were 


not committed to writing by him, but that they were 
learned by his disciples, and passed along down by 
the effort of memory alone. This is not impossible. 
It is known that the Yedas were handed down in 
this manner for many hundreds of years, and no one 
would now dispute the enormous powers of memory 
to which Indian priests and monks attained, when 
written books were not invented, or only used as helps 
to memory. 1 

If we leave the extra books of Ezra which are 
not found in our version of the Bible, and turn to that 
book of Ezra which our common Bibles contain, we 
shall come upon facts suggestive of the proposition 
that to Ezra we are indebted for the making of the 
Bible, in its first form. 

In the first year of the reign of Cyrus the Persian, 
a decree was issued for the rebuilding of Jerusalem ; 
and the work was undertaken. If we follow the 
common chronology, this was in the year 536, or there- 
abouts, B. c. Afterward, during the reign of Arta- 
xerxes, a coalition was formed against the pious Jews, 
who were engaged in rebuilding their city. The 
conspirators complained to the king that Jerusalem 
had always been a city of rebellion, and that if it 
were built again it would seek to become an inde- 
pendent power, and therefore the king's revenue 
would suffer, and the like. The king caused the rec- 
ords to be searched, found the charge substantiated, 
and ordered the work to cease. Afterward, however, 
Artaxerxes was induced to modify this decree, proba- 
bly through the influence of Ezra, and the scribe was 
himself commissioned to press the work of restoration 
forward. The copy of the letter given by the mon- 
1 Rhys Davids, Buddhism. 


arch to Ezra is contained in the book of Ezra. " This 
is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes 
gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, a scribe of the 
words of the commandments of Jehovah, and of his 
statutes to Israel. Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto 
Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of 
heaven," etc. 

It is the opinion of some of the foremost and most 
expert scholars that about this time the Bible took 
tangible form, and the Jews began to be the " people 
of the book." It is quite impossible to fix with entire 
certainty upon the man, or master spirit, who did the 
most in reducing to proportion the Holy Scriptures, 
but certainly the indications point to Ezra more than 
to any other. The eminence of this man is somewhat 
obscured to Bible readers by the inferior place and 
space accorded him in the Bible ; but it accords well 
with the spirit of the prophets, earlier and later, to 
keep themselves and their particular work in the back- 
ground. If we look for qualification for the enter- 
prise of Bible-making, we find no one superior to Ezra, 
a man recognized by decree of the king as a writer 
of the laws of Jehovah. 

He may have been one of a number engaged in that 
important and pious enterprise, which was primarily 
to recover the people to obedience and righteousness. 
In order to that, it was needful that the law should 
take a more tangible shape, and moreover that it 
should be placed in its appropriate historical setting. 
It was necessary at last that Israel's story should be 
told, as only a scholar and a trained man of letters could 
tell it. The indications are that Ezra had five cola- 
borers in this work, and that their work was of a mag- 
nitude greater than any previously undertaken. The 


materials were abundant. There was first of all the 
prophetic work of the period beginning, say, two and 
a half centuries before. There was then the historic 
work which had been going on during the period of 
exile. There was the vast body of tradition, and no 
people have been better furnished with tradition than 
the Jews. Let us suppose that the Assyrians had 
also their body of traditions. They had their story 
of the creation of the world. Perhaps it was during 
the exile that the Jews became acquainted with the 
story of creation. Or if they possessed their indepen- 
dent traditions, they were modified by the Assyrian 
ideas. Whatever the Assyrians had in the way of 
creation-story could, readily be appropriated by the 
Jews, inasmuch as their progenitor was an emigrant 
from that very region. 

According to the researches of recent students, it 
becomes more and more probable that the story of the 
creation was first written in the form we now possess 
at the time of the exile. Inasmuch as the account 
bears evidence of being composite, that is, of being 
drawn from different sources, one may almost see the 
places where the primitive Assyrian and the primitive 
Israelitish versions are joined together. 

It will be noticed that all along this way of study 
we are following the line of the greatest probability. 
There is absolutely no other way of studying such mat- 
ters. The old method of maintaining that the Scrip- 
tures came into being miraculously is a following of a 
way of improbabilities. Study proceeds along such a 
course with immense difficulty at present. 

At any rate, it is in evidence in these later days 
that Israel's story became connected with the Assyrian 
story. The Assyrian influence demonstrates itself 


very fully. It is well to bear in mind the difference 
between history and myth. The two are connected 
in the earlier ages of the world ; but it is our work, 
with the light we have, to distinguish between the two. 
The reverent study of the Bible does not consist in 
shutting our eyes to the facts, but in being very closely 
observant of them. When we undertake the study 
of the life of Israel, as a whole, tracing it from its 
early beginnings, we are very sure to encounter state- 
ments which are historical, and others which are un- 
historical. That the children of Jacob were in bond- 
age in Egypt is history. That they came out of 
Egypt by the hand of a strong leader is also histor- 
ical, and that this strong man enacted suitable laws for 
their conduct is historical. They came into the land 
of Canaan, and dispossessed the inhabitants. In the 
telling of the story there is a great amount of what 
we have learned to call " folk-lore" connected with it. 

Jehovah was recognized by Israel as their national 
God. Other nations had their gods also. In time 
there grew up the purer conception of the universal 
domain of the God of Israel, Jehovah. Traces of the 
growth of that conception are found in the wonderful 
little book of Jonah, and in the prophets of the eighth 
century B. C. 

Since Jehovah was the God of Israel, it came about 
that their God was concerned intimately in their deliv- 
erance from the house of bondage, and in their entry 
upon the land of Canaan. So we have the truth of 
God's dealing, his government set forth in terms of 
the folk-lore. Moses, the great deliverer, went up to 
the top of a lofty mountain in the wilderness, and 
there he met God. There God gave him the set of 
laws which were to be the code of the people. These 


laws God had engraved on two tables of stone. God 
engraved them with his finger. A man would have 
to use tools, but God does not need them. Moses 
meets God in the top of this lofty mountain, and is 
there with God for forty days, and then comes down 
and delivers the law. That seems to have been one 
version of the folk-lore. There was another, if not 
several others. Another account declares that God 
came down to the top of the mountain, and there in 
a mighty voice spoke out these laws to the trembling 
people below. When at last the work of making the 
history of Israel began, it was not found necessary, as 
it now would be, to reconcile these various accounts. 
They are woven together, as though they were not 
contradictory, as we may see them to be. History was 
in its infancy then, and there was no such skill in it 
as would be demanded of the historian now. 

Stories had grown in the mind of the people for 
hundreds of years, and had been rehearsed by parents 
to children. Part of the stories were historical, and 
part the dressing of the idea of the interest of Jeho- 
vah in the people. That such stories had been passed 
along the centuries, from parent to child, from one 
generation to another, without subtraction, or addition, 
or other modification, is simply incredible to the his- 
torical student of this time. 

During the captivity, the past glories of Israel, its 
mighty triumphs in the power of Jehovah, and its 
sufferings and deliverances had been dwelt upon. 
The example of the past furnished the hope of a de- 
liverance still in store. We may think of the expe- 
riences of Israel as becoming panoramic in the mind 
of a man of letters, like Ezra. The laws were for- 
ever associated in all minds with the name of Moses, 


but the writing of the laws and of the history in which 
they were environed is of the time of the exile, long 
after the days of Moses. So much emerges to very 
high probability in the study of the present time. 

It will be asked, " Did Ezra, or some other man of 
letters, manufacture the history ? " Certainly not in 
the sense of inventing it. Prescott's "Mexico" and 
" Peru " are not invented history. The accomplished 
historian relied for his data upon such facts as were 
accessible to him. He gathered them from all attain- 
able sources. We have later discovered that some of 
his sources of information were untrustworthy. Yet 
his work was simple as compared with that of Ezra, 
the scribe. The Israelitish folk-lore was so abundant, 
and had so taken hold of the thought and life of the 
nation, that no historian could have gone free from its 
commanding influence. I take it that Ezra did faith- 
fully choose out of that mass the very things which 
were to him the most true and important* 



The making of a history does not come early in the 
literary accomplishments of a people. If primitive 
people knew how to tell a connected story of their 
experiences, and make books, they would not deserve 
to be called primitive. Such work they know not 
how to do. They commit to such writing as they pos- 
sess the art of, their simple philosophy, their poetry, 
their sayings, which have a recognized value, like 
proverbs. They do not make their history. It seems 
to be a pity, because we have a curiosity concerning 
early beginnings. We would be glad to know all the 
facts of the forgotten centuries, if that were possible. 
We certainly find that it is impossible. A text of 
Scripture is quoted, as showing that what things are 
impossible with us are possible with God. It might 
be applied to the matter in hand. It is impossible 
for us to know the early beginnings of history, ex- 
cept in the most general and vague way. It is possi- 
ble, so we have been told, for God to make these 
early beginnings known to us by inspiration. If God 
inspires a man to tell things about which he has no 
other information except inspiration, why should any 
one find fault with that? Certainly no one ought to 
find fault with it, if it is true that God has proceeded 
in that way. 

Let us suppose that inspiration is the quickening of 


one's powers of memory, or of reason, or of all the 
faculties. That is a reasonable supposition. Inspira- 
tion, then, would be different from hearing something 
from another person, or reading something from an 
inscription or a tablet. If God, or the Jehovah of 
Israel, were like a man, if Jehovah were possessed of 
a body like a man's body, in every way except that 
his body is invisible to our senses, and if God were to 
speak to a man, say Ezra or Moses or another, out of 
a bush, in an audible voice, so that the sound of the 
voice came into the man's ears, like any other voice ; 
and if God should in that way tell the man how the 
earth was created, and how man was made, and 
why man is so often bad in his character and conduct, 
— that would not be inspiration. If the man could 
understand the meaning of the words used, and if he 
could catch the ideas of the sentences thus delivered, 
he would not have need of inspiration, in the sense 
in which that word is usually understood. The Chris- 
tian theory has been that Moses and Ezra, and many 
others, were inspired men. That they did not have 
things told them by some voice speaking outside of 
themselves. It seems to have been the notion of the 
Apostle Paul that the men who wrote the Holy Scrip- 
tures were inspired men. If he was right about it, 
then these men were quickened in their faculties, 
and did not have new or extraordinary faculties given 

Now among other of our faculties is that of im- 
agination. We are justified in concluding, are we 
not? that if God wished to communicate anything to 
any person, the communication would be made in that 
faculty we call the imagination. It may be said that 
God communicates with us by means of conscience, 


and by means of the judgment, but without imagina- 
tion we should make nothing of it. , 

Yery well. The question pertinent to our present 
purpose is this : How did the historian of the Jewish 
people — the man who extracted history from the tan- 
gled mass of tradition, folk-lore, legend, myth, and all 
the like, and made a veritable historical construction 
of it — accomplish his work ? Did he employ his im- 
agination or not ? All will probably confess that he 
must have used his imagination, because in literary 
work of all kinds, and especially in the historical kind, 
imagination is indispensable. 

On the other hand, were facts communicated to him 
in some other way than that by which we arrive gen- 
erally at knowledge of facts ? Are we to suppose that 
Jehovah came to him, and told him, in so many words, 
or at least in substance, that the first human being 
was made of the dust of the ground, that he was 
moulded in the shape of the human frame, and that 
afterward a rib was taken from his side, and made 
over into a woman ? It would be difficult to believe 
that Jehovah told him that story in an audible voice, or 
wrote it on tablets, or otherwise. 

The features of the creation-story were in the ideas 
of men, and had been so lodged in the human mind 
for a long time. It is probable that many persons of 
different generations exercised their imagination upon 
the subject of the creation. How did things come to 
be as we see them? How was the sky stretched out, 
and how were the stars set in it? How did the 
waters come to be gathered into one place, and the 
land in other places ? Are there windows in the sky 
through which the rain is dropped? It seems so. 
By thinking on these subjects, generation after gen- 


eration, there must arise an imagination of the man- 
ner of the creation. Man did not make himself, and 
he did not always exist, therefore he must have been 
made. How was he made ? Why, there is no better 
way, before we know to the contrary, than to judge 
according to the appearance, and make up our minds 
that the Maker of man took the dust, and made a man 
and a woman out of it, and that thus began the human 

God never told any one so in any direct way. 
We have found out more about creation during the 
past half century than all the ancients and moderns 
put together ever knew. We have an immense array 
of testimony to the effect that our present theory is 
the true one ; but among the people of old Israel 
there was never any proof that the old theory was 
correct, except the ideas of men who supposed that 
appearances were safe to go by. 

The historian, say of the time of Ezra the scribe, 
undertaking to construct out of the material at hand 
a history of the past, did faithfully apply himself 
to his task, and culled out of the mass of ideas, 
facts, and other material, his story of the beginning 
of things and the continuance of them in the nation 
of Israel. There was a demand for a history, and 
he was prepared to meet that demand. His memory, 
his imagination, and all his faculties were placed at 
the service of that demand, and there resulted those 
books of the Old Testament which we distinguish as 

The work of the historian is not easy, it is difficult. 
One difficulty may be specified. An observer, stand- 
ing high above the level of the ground, as on the 
top of a mountain, enjoys a larger view of things 


than that of the observer lower down. He has a wide 
prospect, and all that he sees gives a true idea to his 
mind. The farther away his eye roves from the 
objects in the immediate foreground, the less he can 
discern of details and particulars. Near him lie 
stones of a definite shape, containing so many cubic 
feet and inches ; here and there are masses of snow, 
accurately measurable. If the observer is of the 
critical sort, he can treasure up in his mind the defi- 
nite and smaller facts. As regards the distance, his 
observation is limited to outlines, and a general idea 
of color and form. If he beholds a patch of snow 
miles away, it is vastly larger than the small patch 
at his feet, although it seems to be the same in size. 
If the point of view were shifted, the scene would be 
very different. The shapes of objects would change. 

The historian is the man who goes up to a high 
point of observation, and takes his view. The things 
which are nearest him he perceives with entire clear- 
ness. The things which are far from him in time, he 
sees faintly. He can perceive outlines, and he feels 
the necessity of filling out these outlines to make them 
correspond in detail with the time he knows best. The 
first historians attribute to men of a distant era the 
feelings and purposes and the intelligence which be- 
longs to their own era. The first historians are there- 
fore unskillful. If there is a truth in the statement 
that human nature is the same the world over, and in 
all times, it is a truth of limited range. The fact is 
that human nature changes in important ways as time 
goes on, and that our environment has a great deal to 
do wi!h our nature. The first historian of the Jew- 
ish people did not know that; even Milton did not 
know it. 


The work before the historian of the Jews, at the 
time of the exile, was to connect the present nation 
with its past, and to connect both with the beginning 
of things. The national divinity, Jehovah, had be- 
come more to some of the prophets and seers of that 
period than one of the gods. They were thinking 
of Jehovah as the Creator of all nations, and the 
rightful Sovereign over all. They were at last emer- 
ging from the narrowness of their ancestors. 

So the historian, who had acquainted himself with 
the learning of the ancients, knew his field, even to 
the beginning; for the wisdom of the ancients in- 
cluded everything, even the first things. Thus he 
begins with the first man, who was as real to him, 
perhaps, as any other in the series. The first man 
being, so to speak, a ready-made man, a man made all 
at once, was complete from the day his eyes first saw 
the light. His name was furnished, too. It was, in 
English, The Kuddy. 1 It was quite natural that a 
man thus made should have such a name. It was 
further natural that a man thus completed at one 
stroke should be able to reason consecutively, and to 
give names to the various animals by which he was 
surrounded. He could attend to the horticultural work 
demanded by the garden in which he found himself. 
He could cultivate the soil in such a way as to in- 
crease the value of the trees. All this presented no 
insurmountable difficulties to the historian, and it pre- 
sents no difficulties to a great multitude of honest 
people now. 

There was a difficulty, however, in the mind of the 
historian, such as might arise in the mind of any 
thoughtful person of ancient times, that is, the neces- 
sity of attributing to Jehovah a bad creation. Mat- 
1 Or perhaps tied Earth. 


thew Arnold has said a very helpful word to us in tell- 
ing us that to Israel, more than to any other people, 
belonged the intuition of righteousness. Jehovah was 
righteous, and was able, after he had finished the 
work of creation, to pronounce everything he had 
made good. A righteous Creator would not make an 
unrighteous world. Yet the hard fact stares us in 
the face, that unrighteousness prevails widely, if not 
universally, throughout the world. 

The wisdom of the ancients had furnished a way 
out of that serious difficulty. The man was forbidden 
to eat of the fruit of a single tree in the garden. That 
tree was the knowledge of good and evil ; by absti- 
nence from that tree the man could be perfect, or 
right: the moment he ate of that tree he would be- 
come wrong. That is to say, before eating of that 
tree he should know nothing of good and evil, any 
more than a bird flying in the air and alighting on 
the' branches. We should not now regard him a 
moral being, in that case. Yet it has long been the 
theory of religion that Adam, before he knew the dif- 
ference between right and wrong, was a good being. 

Now Ezra, if he was the historian, as we may as- 
sume for convenience he was, was not very expert in 
making distinctions which would occur to almost 
any one now who gave heed to a matter. He was 
solicitous that God should be right, and his creation 
should emerge from his hands perfect ; but he had to 
account for evil in some way ; and the legend of the 
serpent, which may have belonged to various peoples, 
came to his aid. Jehovah had made the serpent. He 
says: "The serpent was the most crafty of all the 
brutes on the earth, which Jehovah made." * This ser- 
1 The LXX., Bagster's edition. 


pent had either partaken of the fruit of the tree of 
the knowledge of good and evil, or in some other way 
had acquired the knowledge, and came and talked 
with the woman whom Jehovah had made for the 
man's companionship. If all the rest of creation was 
fair and good, here was one part of it which was not 
good. Moreover, the evil which was in this serpent 
was more powerful than all the good which Jehovah 
had made, but that did not occur to Ezra. He had to 
account for evil, and here was the way of it, ready 
furnished by the legends of the ancients. 

The serpent talked to the woman in a tempting 
manner. That a serpent should talk, and that in a 
language which the woman could understand, did not 
trouble the mind of the historian. | It was contained 
in the learning of the ancient world, and since it fitted 
his purpose it was available. 

We may have been accustomed to read into this 
simple narrative something which we have found ne- 
cessary. We may have incarnated a malignant and 
very powerful spirit of evil in this brute. It is some- 
times necessary to read meanings into the language 
of the ancient sayings in order to save them. What- 
ever we may do, however, it is improbable that our 
historian saw these meanings. He was making the 
history of his people, and from the beginning of time ; 
and he was choosing from the material afforded by 
the wisdom of the world that which was fit for his purr- 
pose. While he was doing that work he was in the 
hands of that Providence which is ever providing. 
Out of roots of past thought spring flowers of later 
and better thought. After we have the later and the 
better, we can read into the earlier the best we know. 
The wise man can read the tulip in the bulb and the 


oak in the acorn. That has nothing to do with the 
historical work of the historian. He connects the 
reputed founder of the Isi'aelitish tribes with the first 
man. He has the names of families. Genealogies 
have been preserved, as such things are preserved, 
when people learn their value. The names belonging 
to the earliest periods may well be unhistorical. The 
mixture of the historical with the purely mythical was 
inevitable to the historian of that time. 

If we bring to bear on this subject the faculties of 
judgment we are in the habit of applying everywhere 
(except, perhaps, to the Bible), we shall be compelled, 
for various reasons, to hold the beginning of the his- 
tory in the Bible to be mythical. 

If we were to meet anywhere, outside of our Bible, 
a story of a serpent talking to a woman, uttering ar- 
ticulate words with sense in them, we should hold that 
to be an ancient myth. We should never for a mo- 
ment mistake it for history. If in any language we 
read the story of a god making a woman out of a 
single bone taken from a sleeping man, we would not 
for a moment hesitate to call it a myth. Why should 
we hesitate to do the same thing when we discover 
such a story in our Bible ? If we are to hold our rea- 
son and judgment in abeyance when reading that book, 
how will we be able to get good out of it ? How shall 
we maintain anything like mental integrity ? 

The first portion of the Bible presents to our view 
the work of a historian who is not able to distinguish 
actual history from legend. Stories were extant which 
were venerable, and commanded the assent of the wise. 
These stories helped him to the data he was seeking, 
and which were necessary to the completeness of his 
work. By their means he saw, as he supposed, how 


man was made from the dust of the ground, and how- 
woman was made from the rib of the man. He found 
how evil came into the world, as well as how Jehovah 
kept a seed of righteousness alive. For some purpose 
he saw the necessity of attributing a life of great 
length to these early dwellers in the land, and dis- 
covered legends to that effect. All of which, when 
we come to examine it in the light of historical criti- 
cism, is simply and unmistakably mythical. 

The first chapter of Genesis may be interpreted in 
many different ways. However it may be interpreted, 
it is a work of the imagination. It really has no his- 
torical basis whatever, — it is in the nature of guess- 
work. Ezra regarded it as historical material. Doubt- 
less he supposed other things equally untenable. He 
imagined that the sun revolves around the earth. 
He thought that God commanded the people to offer 
sacrifices, although sundry persons of a period earlier 
than his own, by a century or more, disputed it. 

Now guesswork has its value. If guesswork is se- 
rious and skillful, we now call it " hypothesis." New- 
ton guessed at the solution of one of the great prob- 
lems of the universe. Darwin guessed at the solution 
of another. It is in the work of hypothesis that in- 
spiration becomes, so to say, most apparent. Let us 
admit that in the cosmogony of Genesis we have not 
history, but inspired hypothesis. The value of it is 
demonstrated by the scientific opinion of experts that 
no such good account of creation has appeared in the 
annals of time, up to a recent date, as that contained 
in the Bible. 1 

1 The Dean of Peterborough quotes Haeckel as affirming that 
" from Moses, who died about 1480 b. c, down to Linnaeus, who 
was born 1707 A. d., there has been no history of creation to be 


The historical character of the books of the Bible 
is invalidated, however, by the discovery that the very 
material which has been supposed to be history is not, 
and, in the nature of the case, cannot be history. 
When we reach the period of the Flood we may be said 
to approach that which has some elements of actual 
history in it. Such a flood as is described may be set 
down as an impossibility. Mr. Gladstone thinks it 
was possible, but then Mr. Gladstone has proved him- 
self far from expert in many things ; whereas the 
scientific experts show us why the flood, as described, 
could not have occurred. If it could have occurred, 
then natural laws were set at defiance, in which case 
we have nothing to go by. That there may have been 
a flood, of a local sort, such a flood as has since de- 
vastated many a fair portion of the earth, seems not 
unlikely. That this local flood was an important 
event in the history of mankind may also be admitted. 
All that we can say is that the account contained in 
the historical work of Ezra shows us how he made his 
history, and history made in that way is not reliable?) 

There is this line of righteous life which the histo- 
rian finds must have been maintained. The line 
reaches at length to Abraham, who becomes the foun- 
der of a great nation. The same thing which charac- 
terizes the history before Abraham is also continued 
afterward. The mythical element is introduced at 
every point in the narrative. It was so in the history 
of all peoples. 

The food of mankind, so far as it grows out of the 
soil, comes to us by growth. We have wheat ; the 
wheat does not appear in the world in the naked seed : 

compared to the Biblical." Professor Sanday's Oracles of God, 
p. 10, note. 


it grows in a protecting envelopment. When the 
time arrives for that envelopment to be stripped off, 
then the wheat is ready to fulfill its mission of feed- 
ing the world, but not before. For Christendom the 
Bible has grown up as food for the spiritual nature. 
It has been growing, and it has been preserved in its 
integrity. Now it seems its integrity is being broken. 
Criticism is disengaging the real food — food for the 
spirit of man — from its sheath of untrustworthy his- 
tory. We see that it is unverifiable history. That 
is the first step. Until it is seen that the history is 
subject, and properly, to our reason, to our judgment, 
we do not get into the real intent of the Bible as 
a revelation. "He will burn the chaff in the un- 
quenchable fire," said John of the coming Son of Man. 
What if the fire be already kindled in shape of that 
searching, merciless, and scrupulous criticism which 
has newly come into play? 



To many, doubtless, the critical examination of the 
Bible appears to be simply a process of tearing the 
Bible to pieces. It offends the religious sense, and 
the feeling of reverence which has been inherited, or 
has otherwise gained possession of the mind. Such 
offenses must needs come, but woe to them by whom 
they come. We are in the habit of admitting the 
validity of a principle, but when we behold the ap- 
plication of it we are troubled, and thrown into an 
offended state. We may be quite willing to admit 
that the Bible is subject to critical study, and ought 
to be critically studied; yet when by such critical 
study the Bible is found to be no flawless and infalli- 
ble revelation, but a human book, — a book produced 
by fallible men; good men, and inspired men, but not 
necessarily accurately informed men, — a sense of be- 
reavement and loss comes upon us. If it is shown 
that there are mistakes in the Bible, the inference to 
which some minds swiftly move is that it therefore be- 
comes an unsafe guide in religion. Moreover, if the 
Bible is God's book, how is it possible that it should 
contain errors ? 

A distinguished bishop 1 has recently and explicitly 
told the clergy of his diocese that the doctrine of the 
church is that the Bible contains two elements, the 
1 Bishop Potter. 


human and the divine. He says it is one error to sup- 
pose that it is all God's book, and another error to 
suppose that it is all man's book. The doctrine of 
the church is that it is both human and divine. Now 
it is proverbial that to err is human. If there is a 
human element in the Bible, there are errors in it. 
It may be that they are not important, but the dis- 
covery of an error is a real discovery, important or 
not. As a matter of fact, such mistakes are plainly 

It may be a thankless task to ascertain the true 
nature of the Bible, or to attempt it, but it is a task 
demanded imperatively by the age in which we live, 
and by the peculiar crisis which has come in our reli- 
gion. There comes a time in the experience of men 
when idolatry meets its overthrow. (It is a hard ordeal 
to see our idolatry broken down, but if we do not flee 
from idolatry, we may find ourselves dispossessed of 
our idols. The Bible is a created thing, and we 
have worshiped and served the created thing rather 
than the Creator when we have worshiped the Bible, 
or maintained in the face of the evidence that it is 

The idea of an infallible guidance, and from a book, 
belongs to a social state different from ours. It be- 
longs to a less individualistic social state. Moreover, 
the Bible is of too composite, not to say self-contra- 
dictory, a nature to furnish an infallible guidance for 
any one. Recognizing which fact, the leaders of reli- 
gion have made the creeds for our guidance. The ex- 
istence of a creed has been demanded by an actual 
deficiency of the Bible ; for the Bible presents a 
mass of material which the common mind has not 
been able to deal with. The uncommon minds have 


drawn principles and theories out of this mixed mate- 
rial for the guidance and government of men. 

Some religious men have stubbornly closed their 
eyes to the discrepancies in Bible narratives. They 
have declared that there were no discrepancies ; but 
it requires no very great learning to find them. Per- 
sons who have been attentively reading the sacred 
writings of Israel in the original tongue have clearly 
made out the presence of two elements in large por- 
tions of the Bible. To an inattentive reader of the 
Bible in the English these two might not appear. If 
one were to read any of the books, or the encyclo- 
paedia articles bearing upon the subject, the matter 
would become quite plain. The two elements are 
manifest from the two words applied to Deity. 

The Hebrew word for God was El, and the plural 
of that is Elohim. The gods of the Phoenicians 
would be spoken of as Elohim. There was another 
word which was applied only to the God of Israel, 
and that was Jehovah, or, more simply, Jahveh. 
Now these two words are not used interchangeably, 
but their use indicates that two original accounts are 
put together. If we were to adopt the distinction now 
made by our scholars, we should say that there were 
Elohistic Scriptures, or Scriptures in which the word 
Elohim was applied to God, and Jehovistic Scrip- 
tures in which the word Jehovah is applied. It would 
appear that there were people among the religious 
leaders of the Hebrews who did not know of Jeho- 
vah, and others who did. Inasmuch as the idea of 
Jehovah was not the first, we may conclude that 
some time elapsed before the people were believers in 
Jehovah. When people had learned to think about 
Jehovah, they would write that name, instead of the 


older name, Elohira. There is something peculiar in 
the use of the plural word, (which would properly be 
translated " gods,") which, however, we need not enter 
into now. Suffice it to say that these two words in- 
dicate different original writers of traditions, and that 
the historian endeavored to put together in some sort 
of harmony things which were irreconcilable. 

The river Rhone issues from Lake Geneva, a clear 
stream. Before the Rhone falls into the peaceful 
bosom of the lake it is full of the material made by 
the grinding of the rocks in the glaciers ; but all that 
impurity is left in the lake, and when the river flows 
from the lake it is pure. A short distance below it is 
joined by the river Arve, which takes its rise chiefly in 
the glaciers of the Mt. Blanc region. The Arve is a 
muddy stream, and where it joins the current of the 
Rhone, the waters do not mingle, but there is a line 
of demarkation between them. The two streams flow 
between the same banks, and make one river, but the 
waters are different, and their difference is plainly to 
be seen, — which things, as Paul would say, are an 
allegory, or parable. Let us say that the Elohistic idea, 
that is, the idea of gods or superior powers, is that far 
from pure theistic conception which primitive men ac- 
quire. That is the idea which Israel, in common with 
other peoples, inherited ; but falling into the experience 
of that peculiar people, there gradually emerges the 
pure idea of Jehovah, one God, who is creator and sov- 
ereign of all. This seems to have been the pure con- 
ception of the prophets of Israel, or of some of them. 

Now, in constructing the history of the nation, the 
historian does not begin with Jehovah, but with Elo- 
hiin. The two streams, the Jehovah stream and the 
Elohim stream, are brought together in one current 


of history, but they do not mix. The Elohistic ac- 
count of the creation is given in the first chapter of 
Genesis. At the fourth verse of the second chapter 
another account appears. There the word Jehovah is 
introduced for the first time. The second account 
does not harmonize with the first. In the first account 
the Elohim causes plant life to precede animal life. 
In the second account Jehovah first creates man of 
the dust of the ground, and afterward causes the 
plants to grow. \The first is the Elohistic account, 
and the second is the Jehovistic account, and the sec- 
ond contradicts the first. So that although the two 
run together in the same historic record, they are as 
distinct as are the waters of the Arve from those of 
the Rhone. In the first account, as any one can see 
by simply reading, God commands the plants to grow. 
In the second, Jehovah causes a mist to rise from the 
ground. In the first account the lower animals are 
created before man. In the second account man is 
made first, then the lower animals, and afterward 
woman. One does not require learning in the He- 
brew or any other ancient tongue to be able to see 
these facts. All that any one needs is an honest 
endeavor to see the facts as they are, and to under- 
stand the significance of common English words. For 
our translators have performed a service for us, in 
many editions of the Bible, in translating the word 
Jehovah by the word Lord, and have caused it to 
be printed in small capitals. When, therefore, we see 
the word Lord in small capitals, we can know that 
the Jehovistic account is introduced there. 

Thus it is seen that in the religious treasure of Is- 
rael at least two, if not more, sorts and series of tra- 
ditions were contained. Proof of this emerges from 


the stories which are told, now of one person and 
now of another. The Elohistic tradition will attach 
itself to one name, and the Jehovistic tradition to 

An instance of this is found in a tale told of Abra- 
ham, in the twentieth chapter of Genesis. The same 
tale is told of Isaac, in the twenty-sixth chapter. Abra- 
ham commands his wife Sarah to call herself his sister, 
fearing that Abimelech, king of Gerar, will kill him 
for the sake of his wife. The same story is told of 
Isaac and his wife, and in each case Abimelech is 
the king of Gerar. That a like experience of a do- 
mestic sort should happen to father and son is not 
improbable ; but because the second tale makes no 
allusion to the first we reach the probability that the 
first is the same story as the second, only applied to dif- 
ferent persons. Yet when we see that the first story 
uses the word Elohim, and the second Jehovah, it be- 
comes quite evident that we have in the incident only 
one account, given, however, in two traditions. It is 
related that Abraham digged a well at a certain place, 
and called the name of the place Beer-Sheba. It is 
related that Isaac digged a well in the same country, 
and called the name of it Sheba, and the historian 
adds : " Therefore the name of the city is Beer-Sheba 
unto this day." We perceive the great probability 
that the different traditions attached the names of 
different persons to the same incident in this case 

The two traditions are closely joined in some places, 
as in the account of the Flood. The Jehovah narra- 
tive and the Elohim narrative are dovetailed into each 
other, but they do not match as to the facts. The 
Elohim narrative says that the animals are to be taken 


into the ark two by two. " Two of every sort shall 
come to thee to keep them alive." The Jehovah 
narrative says : " Of every clean beast shalt thou take 
to thee seven and seven, the male and the female, and 
of the unclean beasts two, the male and the female." 
A discrepancy manifests itself to the most unobser- 
vant observer. There is a difference between twos 
and sevens, which is represented by the number five. 
This discrepancy arises from the bringing together 
into one history of two traditions which contradict 
each other. 

The Apostle Paul seems to have been in the habit 
of introducing parentheses of exhortation into the cur- 
rent of his argument. He wished to anticipate objec- 
tions. He desired that those who read his letters 
should be in a right frame of mind. Following his 
example, it may be well to anticipate the objection, 
which is not unlikely to arise, that the method here 
pursued tends to tear the Bible to pieces. Surely 
that is an objection well worth consideration. All 
nature is studied. We look as closely as we may into 
the developments of nature. It is well that we should 
do so. While we study nature we at the same time, 
and to an extent, reverently be it spoken, study God. 
Now the student of nature, one who has informed him- 
self concerning the rocks and the layers of them which 
underlie our soils, has attention called to some lofty 
and magnificent bridge. There is a great arch span- 
ning a chasm. In this arch he discerns two rocks 
firmly cemented together. They differ, perhaps, in 
color and in texture. 

He looks upon them, and declares that one belongs 
to a period of the past, say the Eozoic, and the other 
to a later, say the Mesozoic. One was made thou- 


sands of years before the other, yet here they are 
joined together very firmly in one structure. The 
man does not have to get powder, or other explosive, 
and blow up our noble bridge, with its wide arch, in 
order to identify these different stones, and declare 
that they have been fitted together by human art and 
ingenuity. He does not have to say that the builders 
of the bridge were dishonest because they joined the 
stones of different periods in their arch. If the Lau- 
rentian stone and the Jurassic stone are in the arch, 
and if it stands secure in spite of their conjunction, 
and fulfills its purpose, the man does not destroy the 
bridge by his geological statements. It might indeed 
appear to him that the arch would possibly have been 
better built with stones of the same period, but the 
bridge is what it is, and he recognizes and states the 

The Bible stands before us as a literary construc- 
tion. Every intelligent person as well knows that 
it is a construction as that men builded the bridge. 
The Bible was built out of materials in the form of 
traditions. Some of these traditions are older than 
others, belonging to different periods, and yet they are 
wrought together in the same structure, and those 
things which did not originally belong together are 
made by the historian to stand together. Now if we 
seek to identify these various parts and analyze the 
Bible, the fear seizes the mind of the timid that the 
Bible is being torn to pieces ; but the Bible will not 
be torn to pieces. It long since took the form which 
it will doubtless maintain as long as the earth lasts. 

There is, however, something which will doubtless 
happen, and that is a change of opinion about the 
Bible. There has happened a very great change of 


opinion about the earth, and the stars, and the relation 
of the earth to other bodies in space. The old heavens 
have passed away, and the old earth, if we speak in 
the language of poetry. Certainly the earth has not 
changed so much as our ideas of it have, and our ideas 
have changed in a way most profitable to us. We can 
employ the powers and forces of the universe far bet- 
ter than our fathers could. I think it must be the 
same with reference to the Bible. 

Matthew Arnold says this : " At the present mo- 
ment two things about the Christian religion must 
surely be clear to anybody with eyes in his head. One 
is, that men cannot do without it ; the other, that they 
cannot do with it as it is." There are many reasons 
why they cannot do without it, and certain reasons 
which are now rising into prominence why they cannot 
do with it as it is. Among these latter is the fact that 
the Christian religion, as it has been professed, joins 
in an artificial unity those things which have no real 
or vital harmony. We have one of the parables of 
Christ to the effect that a man who hears his sayings 
and does them not is like one who builds his house 
upon the sand : the house falls down when the storm 
comes. The parable has a wide application. It is 
precisely what our Christian religion has done, and 
is still engaged in doing. It has claimed to have 
an infallible revelation from God covering the facts 
of creation and the history of the people of Israel. 
It has demanded of its adherents that they accept for 
truth those things which common experience either 
denies or is doubtful about. It has attached an im- 
portance which they do not deserve to the confused 
traditions of a people whose inspired thinking was 
provisional, and almost all of whose ideas are revised 


by later experience. The result is a dubiousness in 
the mind of intelligent people concerning the va- 
lidity of the religion of Christ. If that religion com- 
pels us to believe that contradictory things are not 
contradictory, that seven is the same as two, and that 
the impossible has happened, then it is doomed to go 
down in proportion to the rise of rational intelligence ; 
but the foundation of the real religion of Christ is 
not of such incoherent material. It does not rest on 
the confused and primitive traditions of a people of 
whom Jesus said that they made void the word of 
God through their traditions. 

Let us return to our main line of illustration of 
the fallibility of the work of the sacred historian. 
One may select at random, from numerous instances, 
illustration of the unskillful method of the editor of 
the Old Testament Scriptures. A code of laws seems 
to have been given the Israelites in the desert, upon 
their flight out of Egypt. Some account of that we have 
in the second book of the Bible, the book of Exodus. 
But a fuller exposition of the laws appears in the 
book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Bible. It 
has been supposed always, or since the Bible has been 
read by the people, that this fuller expression of the 
laws of Israel was written by Moses, and only a little 
later than the account given in Exodus. Evidence 
has arisen that some of the laws contained in the book 
of Deuteronomy were devised long after the time of 
Moses. It may be that these laws were many or most 
of them devised hundreds of years after the flight of 
Israel out of Egypt, and it may also be that some 
of them have no historical basis whatever. 

We will note that there grew up in Israel, in later 
times, a great hatred of other nations, and of some 


other nations in particular. This feeling expressed 
itself in some of the laws and usages of a later pe- 
riod. It was assumed by the historian that Moses 
gave these laws, yet it is curious that the law-abiding 
people near the time of Moses acted as though they 
had never heard of these laws. For instance, there 
is a law against any fellowship with the Ammonites 
and the Moabites : " An Ammonite or a Moabite 
shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord ; even to 
the tenth generation shall none belonging to them 
enter into the assembly of the Lord forever." 

But in the days of the judges, which was not long 
after Moses, a Moabitess was married by one of the 
chief personages of a certain locality, and no word of 
disapproval seems to have been uttered by any one. 
Indeed, this Moabitish woman was the ancestress of 
the great king David. This is a mere incident, to 
be sure, but it is one of many which shows how the 
book of Deuteronomy was composed, of how diverse 
elements, and how widely some of its parts are sepa- 
rated in time. If some future historian of the United 
States were to tell the incident of the murder of a 
certain Boston man by a professor in a medical school, 
and were to add that this professor was punished by 
electrocution, it would be open to the critic to show 
that electrocution became a law in the State of New 
York long after the Parkman murder, and that the 
historian mistook a law of New York for a law of 

The work of the historian was not accurate histori- 
cal work. We have a history containing most serious 
flaws. These frankly exhibit themselves to anybody 
who will look at them, and by their existence two 
things would appear to be demonstrated : first, that 


accurate history is not necessary to the real religion 
of Christ ; second, that the traditions which include 
accounts of miracles, such as the changing of rods 
into serpents, the standing of water " upon an heap " in 
the bed of the Jordan to admit the passage of Israel 
dry-shod, the standing still of the sun, and the like, 
do not furnish us with the substance out of which a 
real history can be made. All that we can know by 
them is what the people of old believed in regard to 
such things, and how easy it was for the most improb- 
able stories to command assent. 

Meanwhile the Bible, which contains the religion of 
Christ, and that other religion upon which the religion 
of Christ was founded, while it becomes less and less 
to us a book of history or of science, will be likely to 
become more and more a book of religion and of the 
development thereof in the thoughts of men. 



Tradition has favored the idea that Ezra the 
scribe is to be credited with the formation of the Old 
Testament canon. We have seen that the work of 
Ezra, or some contemporary, was of a more general 
character than that. It may be said that the Old 
Testament made its appearance in the world for the 
first time under his hand. 

No historian creates history. His imagination is 
not employed in devising facts ; he takes the facts as 
he finds them, and brings them together, not into a 
mere mass, but into an organic whole. History is not 
like a catalogue. It is not a list of things which have 
happened ; it is not a heap of stories ; it is a kind 
of body, instinct with life. In that body the past 
speaks. The history is wholly made of material al- 
ready in existence, not evolved from the inner con- 
sciousness of the historian. The historian chooses 
and prepares his material. He condenses this, and 
enlarges that. According to his best judgment, he 
finds the relations of the facts, which experience has 
supplied. He may not always get the right relation. 
The less skill he possesses the more liable will he be 
to go astray. The result of his work will be a con- 
nected tissue ; a real fabric, woven together. | No 
man has ever yet written a perfect history; it will 
be long before such a history can be written. If it 


were written, it would not be a mathematically exact 
reproduction of facts as they occurred ; for that would 
be no history, perfect or imperfect. 

Perspective comes in the work of the historian as 
really as in the art of the landscape painter. The 
Chinese painters give a very faithful picture of details. 
The Chinese artist's fisherman is undoubtedly accu- 
rate, and the boat which he paddles. The mountains 
are good and the representation of water and all the 
like ; but the Chinese painter is most faulty in per- 
spective. That is to say, his fisherman will be about 
as large as his mountain, and the fisherman's boat 
would never be able to get through the mouth of one 
of his rivers. The artist undoubtedly proposes to do 
ample justice to the man and his boat ; we must be 
able to see the features of the man, and the cracks 
and knots in the boat ; . but that necessitates making 
the man and the boat so large that the rest of the 
landscape is thrown into fault thereby. It might be 
better, for the purpose of art, to make the boat by 
one little indefinite stroke of the brush, and the man 
by another. So it is in history-making. That is a 
work of high art. What we require in history is 
that it shall be a picture ; that it shall not be an end- 
less chain of stories of particular individuals with no 
attention to perspective. Ezra wished to put Israel's 
truth, liiat truth for which it stood, in a setting of 
past events. The setting was now felt to be neces- 
sary. The law of right conduct must be traced, and 
through the mazes of genealogies, legends, creation- 
hymns, and tales of heroes he traced it. When we 
require of him that his history shall be authentic even 
to the beginning, as history, we require too much. 

Our scientific teachers tell us that the young of a 


species epitomizes the history of its race. The young 
frog is first a young fish, and afterward a young some- 
thing else. The young child is like the young human 
race. It has its life and its experience, but of this 
experience it can give very little account in after years. 
Its earliest months are real enough, but when the 
child, grown up, undertakes to tell the story, there is 
a point where definiteness begins. Behind that point, 
all is indefinite. Of the months succeeding its birth 
it has no memory whatever. Then there arises some 
one incident which makes sharp impression upon the 
child's mind, perchance some little matter of domes- 
tic discipline, or some beginning of a moral percep- 
tion, and that is retained in memory. It is at that 
point the historical material begins. After a while 
something else occurs, which makes an addition to the 
small historical stock. Later a more closely connected 
view of incidents, and acquirements, and the like arises ; 
but the early things will forever be shrouded in the 
mystery of infancy. 

So it is with the human race. For a long time after 
the race is born, as a human race, it has no history 
which can be told. Then incidents come which are 
made much of. These are out of proportion to the 
place accorded them. They are explained in the way 
children explain things. Thus arise the legend and 
the myth. What is true of one portion oftthe hu- 
man race is true practically of all. There is a battle 
fought between one tribe and another. The day- 
light seems to be protracted beyond its usual length. 
This is felt to be to enable the victors to pursue their 
victory more thoroughly. Thus grows up the legend 
of the standing still of the sun. A legend of a flood 
which is so great that it covers the whole earth with 


its waters, and rises above the tops of lofty moun- 
tains, a flood which destroys all living things, ex- 
cept the marine, has for its basis some disaster in the 
shape of a flood. v Which actual flood, however, does 
not rise above the tops of the mountains, and does 
not cover the earth, and destroy all land life. 

Such incidents, built up into such legends, adorn the 
pages of all the first attempts of men to tell about 
the first things, or the things of man's infancy. As 
the race grows older, it becomes more discriminat- 
ing. Its historians grope patiently in the mass of the 
early things, and confess that we are ignorant of the 
actual occurrences in the childhood of the world. ^ In 
the legend they recognize a basis of incident which 
made impression upon a time, so that it was pushed 
forward into prominence and embalmed in the myth. 
This brings to our view something of importance, 
namely, it is the duty and privilege of a child to learn 
by experience, and to outgrow its earlier and more 
crude interpretation of things. The same duty be- 
longs to the human race. 

There are many intelligent persons who somehow 
or other hold it to be a sort of duty to believe, or to 
profess belief of things which their sober and trained 
judgment refuses to accept. They do not proceed in 
that way with reference to the practical affairs of life, 
but only with reference to religion. Thus their reli- 
gion becomes a sort of invertebrate religion, — a re- 
ligion which has not real stamina, and sturdy, inde- 
pendent uprightness. It is never safe to tamper with 
the truth and accept fables. Wherever you find the 
fables, it is safe to recognize them as such, and to 
make use of them as fables. It is not safe to call them 
the facts of history, because in so doing one becomes 


careless about the truth of a thing. He renders him- 
self incapable of adhering to the truth through evil 
report and difficulty. It is held to be an act of piety 
by some to believe every statement made in the Bible, 
even if it should transpire that the statement could 
not be true, taken in its literalness. Pious men deny 
the discrepancies in the Bible genealogies and other 
accounts. They start with the proposition that the 
Bible contains no error of any sort, and then they 
hold to the proposition in the face of the plainest evi- 
dence. Now they do themselves a moral damage, and 
are acting impiously. There is a lack of candor and 
truthfulness in them, which makes the very root of 
religion unsound. 

Let us consider for a moment the martyrs. A mul- 
titude of heroes have died rather than live a false pro- 
fession. Such stout honor redeems our race. They 
have faced the beasts of the arena, and the fires of 
persecution, and the loss of friends and of all things, 
in order to be true to their convictions. Such men 
were not well informed, but so far as their informa- 
tion went, they did strictly abide in their truth. A 
certain light had broken in upon them in the progress 
of God's creation, and that light they welcomed, and 
embraced, and stood by. Their fellow-men crucified 
them, or burned them, or tortured them, or flung them 
to the lions. Whenever a man obstinately stands 
against the light, and will none of it, he takes his 
stand against God, for it is God who pours the light 
down. It is God who builds new ages upon the ruins 
of old ages. It is God who makes increasing revela- 
tion of himself and his truth, as time goes on. 

Professor Sanday quotes from the Table Talks of 
Luther : " Melancthon, discoursing with Luther touch- 


ing the prophets, who continually boast thus, ' Thus 
saith the Lord,' asked whether God, in person, spoke 
with them or no. Luther replied : 4 They were very 
holy, spiritual people, who seriously contemplated upon 
holy and divine things ; therefore God spake with them 
in their consciences, which the prophets held as sure 
and certain revelations.' " 1 It is a reasonable view, 
and of great consequence. For all men who studi- 
ously contemplate any of the things of God in any 
department of his creation will be not separate from, 
but closely in line with God's revelation. It is thus 
the revelation has been made from time to time. Thus 
and not otherwise Johann Kepler thought God's 
thoughts over after him. Others have seen the light 
of his truth in like manner. 

(Jt has been complained that the religious world 
obstinately opposes the advance of truth in the world. 
Modern astronomy had to fight for its life, and geol- 
ogy had its struggle for existence. Modern biology 
has been compelled to fight its battle. Why? Is 
it because men, as men, are always opposed to pro- 
gress ? Is it not rather because religious men and 
men of the Bible have been opposed to the new 
theories ? The new astronomy was contrary to the 
Bible, the new geology was opposed to Holy Writ, 
and biology does not harmonize with Moses. Reli- 
gious people were afraid of the light of new discov- 
eries. The Bible proceeds upon the general theory 
that the earth is flat ; and the religious world said to 
the discoverers that they must not prove the earth's 
rotundity .~ It was not a question of truth, but of 
what the Bible was supposed to say ; and what the 
Bible said was to end all dispute. We have learned 
1 The Oracles of God. Preface to the second edition. 


surely that the earth is not flat. So much light God, 
through the astronomers, who contemplated his truth, 
has set shining among us. The truths of geology and 
of biology are each a light God sends to us. By rea- 
son of a false notion of the nature of the Bible many 
have set God's light at defiance. 

It is a strange thing that men should have used the 
Bible thus obstructively, and fenced out God's light 
with it ; that is, however, precisely what they have 
done, and are more or less continuing to doT) Jesus 
boldly revised the law and the prophets of Israel. He 
learned from them their truth, but he brought forth new 
truth, and was thus a light in the world. The upholcU 
ers of the sacred traditions were roused to great wrath 
by his conduct. They spoke of him as a blasphemer, 
while he on his part told them that they refused to 
come to the light because they preferred darkness. 
The severity of the reproof justifies itself. Any person 
who prefers the statements of the Scriptures to the 
knowledge which now enlightens the intelligent world 
shows the same preference for darkness which charac- 
terized the defenders of the old faith. 

We talk of the Scriptures as sacred. There is a 
reason why we should so speak of them, but we ought 
to lay it well to heart, and it would be a bright day 
if all mankind could once grasp the thought, so late in 
making its way, that what makes the value of the 
Scriptures or of anything extant among us is the 
truth, not the error, they contain. The really and 
eternally sacred thing is truth. Now truth is no mere 
rock-like and stable substance, but it is a growing 
plant. It is apprehended, not by those who love state- 
ments for themselves, but by those who love truth 
To those who love truth for its own sake, nothing will 


stand in the way. The truth they will have if it is 
procurable. They will not let words of the wise, long 
spoken, stand in their way. They will not permit the 
traditions of the past to hinder the truth which walks 

We make a far-reaching mistake when we attribute 
to anything more than properly and naturally belongs 
to it. The Israelites took trees and lopped off the 
branches, and then drove the trunks into the ground 
about their altars. They are called " groves " in our 
common version of the Bible. Really these were 
emblems of the goddess Ashera, and the goddess 
Ashera represents the " female side of the beneficent 
and fertilizing sun-god." These wooden posts were 
only wooden posts. They had grown as trees, under the 
kindly influences of nature, but when men had wrought 
their devices upon them, to make them signify some- 
thing more than trees, they fell into that curious 
something we have learned to call idolatry. Under 
the influence of the sun, the trees do actually grow, 
put forth their leaves and the buds and fruit. It is 
right to recognize the fact, but when the trees are 
set up around the altars to receive the worship of man- 
kind, they make for idolatry, which is confusion. 

LThere is a more subtle and refined idolatry to which 
our Christendom is no stranger. A book is set up to 
be our infallible guide and God's speech to us. What 
the book declares in any portion of it is to be taken to 
be God's truth for us. To inquire further or to doubt 
is held to be an evil, involving a distrust of the Most 
High. That is attributing to the Bible more than be- 
longs to it. More than could possibly belong to it, for 
is not the book a device of men ? It grew in men's 
thoughts, through the illuminating influences of the 


Spirit of God, no doubt. These thoughts, more or 
less appropriate to their time, have been extended or 
diminished so as to fit that structure of revelation in 
which we find them. 

Pillars of stone were set up in various places in the 
borders of Israel. It is perfectly right to have pillars 
of stone erected for certain purposes : the common 
purpose is of a memorial nature. There were some 
of the Jews, at least, who thought of these stones as 
simply memorial and nothing more. There were 
others who regarded them as the abodes of this or 
that deity. These last attributed to the pillars that 
which did not and could not belong to them, and were 
idolaters. There are beautiful images of stone and 
bronze erected in the streets and parks of cities. 
They serve for the most part a memorial purpose. 
They are so far superior to the images worshiped by 
heathens, that a heathen visiting London, for instance, 
might be powerfully moved to fall down and adore the 
mere statuary of the place. His mistake would lie in 
attributing to the work of art somewhat more than he 
ought. It might be to him, if he were far down in 
the ranks of heathenism, the abode of a deity. There 
is nothing to be complained of in the images, nothing 
whatever. It is well to have monuments as memori- 
als of great deeds and great events, but they ought to 
be regarded as memorials. 

The Bible is a memorial, a monument, the very best 
literary product of ancient times. There are blemishes 
in it. It tells us of the thoughts of men of an early 
time. These men were strongly influenced by the 
higher motives through which God blesses our human- 
kind. These higher were in struggle with all sorts of 
lower motives, but the motive of righteousness came 


to prevail more and more. That is the crowning 
glory of the Bible. The book itself indicates to us 
that the higher motive emerged by slow process, pain- 
fully fighting its way against the opposition of man- 
kind. The higher was always beset by the lower. 
The grander apprehension of the best men, who felt 
that God is a Spirit, and must be worshiped, not in 
particular places and by particular performances and 
by a specific set of men, was continually obstructed 
and silenced by the people who wished to be idolaters. 
They must have their spectacular shows. They cared 
more for the dress of the priest than they did for the 
character of the suppliant. They cared more for the 
external order of the sacrifice than for the feeling of 
the heart. Therefore it was that the man of the 
greater apprehension was compelled to complain that 
they drew nigh God with their lips, while their hearts 
were far from him. 

The Bible presents to us not only a memorial of the 
grander apprehension ; it also gives, and in tedious 
detail, the lower and spurious apprehension of the 
idolaters. We have their version of God, as well as 
the better version. What it all comes to is this, that 
we have the responsibility of making proper choice 
for ourselves, and with such light or lack of it as 
we have of the things the Bible tells us. When we 
conclude, as many seem to have done, that in this 
memorial of the religion of the past God dwells ; 
when we are told, as we have been, that God is in the 
book, in the sense that God's Spirit in some way per- 
vades its pages, so as to make it different from any 
other book, we are attributing to the book that which 
does not belong to it, and we are making an idol of it. 
Now the idolatrous worship of the book is the real 


religious sin of the time ; and this idolatrous worship 
of the book goes with much careless reading of it, and 
therefore a superficial knowledge of its contents*. But 
it is of that with which men have a shallow acquain- 
tance, that they can make the most sweeping assertions. 
They can say, if they know nothing about the facts of 
the case, that there are no mistakes in the Bible. They 
can say with great confidence that all its prophecies 
have been fulfilled, or, if not, that they will be fulfilled. 
I think we discover that those who know the most 
about anything are apt to talk about it in somewhat 
guarded terms. The wide-sweeping statements which 
we are accustomed to hear and read about the Bible 
are the most untrustworthy of all statements, because 
they show a lack of knowledge. 

There are in the historical portion of the Old Testa- 
ment two sets of national traditions regarding the gov- 
ernment of Israel. In one of these we read that under 
stress of peculiar circumstances King David purchased 
a field and a threshing-floor of a Jebusite. The king 
wished to make a sacrifice, and he proposed to have it 
no mere cheap sacrifice, made by another man, but 
by himself. Wherefore, although the man offered 
the oxen of his threshing-floor and all the place to the 
king to use as it might please him, the king declined the 
gift. So far, in the main, the stories agree, but as to 
the price paid they totally disagree. In one account 
we are told that David paid the man six hundred she- 
kels of gold, and in another that he paid fifty shekels 
of silver. It is true that the men named in this trans- 
action seem at first glance to be different men, but the 
circumstances make it most probable that there are two 
stories of one event. If a man declares, in the method 
characteristic of the careless and the extravagant, that 


there are no blunders, and if a blunder is shown him, 
he may explain it in some manner, but the object of 
the explanation is to fortify a notion of the Bible 
which is becoming more and more untenable. The 
object is to maintain that the Bible is infallible, or 
without even the slightest error. That attributes to 
the created thing the quality which belongs only to 
the uncreated. God is infallible : men are not, and 
men wrote the Bible. The Bible is the work of men's 
hands.") It is the work of their thoughts, and their 
imagination, and their consciences ; and God works 
unceasingly in the most enlightened consciences, and 
in the most consecrated imaginations, and in the most 
true thought of men so as to give an increasing reve- 
lation of himself and his glory ,c\ — 

Another thing. The inaccuracies of the Bible, 
those very things which lie plain upon the pages of 
the book, are in respect to things of no practical mo- 
ment. It concerns us no whit what David paid for 
a field. It does concern us that David repented of 
evil designs, and made his effort for righteousness. 
Whether Moses was a descendant of Abraham, or an 
Egyptian, really does not concern our character ; but 
that a law of God came to Moses through his serious 
" contemplation upon holy and divine things " is of 
very great interest to us. The revelation came that 
the revelation might continue to come. When we 
worship the means of the revelation, by calling it iner- 
rant, as the phrase is, we foreclose the farther revela- 
tion we might be receiving. For the problems of our 
time, for our own right conduct and influence in our 
time, we need not a settled formula of the past, but 
speech with God in the living present. 



The word prophecy has come to mean more than its 
original significance. The prophet was God's speaker 
at first, but afterwards came to be one who could fore- 
tell the future. Ability to speak for Jehovah seems 
to imply an ability to look into the mystery of the 
future and disclose it. If one is in the counsels of 
Jehovah, knowing God's mind, it is not difficult for 
him to perceive what shall come to pass ; but it does 
not necessarily follow that one who knows the mind 
of God in respect to some things is also informed in 
respect to all things. It not only does not follow, but 
it is absurd. There is not a living person, whose in- 
telligence is at all developed, who does not know some- 
thing of the mind of God. There is no one to whom 
the world does not express something, and something 
which is true. All persons know of the alternation 
of day and night, of seedtime and harvest, and of ten 
thousand other cosmic facts and arrangements. These 
things disclose an order and an intelligence. We may 
not be able to give a very good or sufficient account Of 
that intelligence, or of the order which it testifies to ; it 
is a fact that no one can give a sufficient account of 
creation. Yet, in so far as we discern order and intel- 
ligence in the cosmos, we are let into the mind of God ; 
but that privilege is strictly limited. Those who best 
see the meaning of present things are likely to know 


most of the future. The knowledge of the future is 
not a supernatural gift, or at least it is no more a su- 
pernatural gift than the knowledge of the past or the 

In the Bible we encounter a prominent class of 
writers, perhaps the most prominent of all, known as 
the prophets. Soothsayers, necromancers, witches, 
medicine men, and all the like belong to the history 
of all tribes of men. Astrologers consult the stars 
and necromancers the dead, and medicine men go 
through various frenzied performances to gain some 
knowledge of the future. These persons attain in- 
fluence in their tribes and become chiefs and priests 
and prophets or sages. Israel, while it had its sooth- 
sayers and necromancers and astrologers at various 
times, and possibly in some abundance, presents us 
with the vision of a higher class. The reason why 
this class is higher is chiefly that it is more sober, 
more reasonable, and more solicitous for righteous- 

It is with the prophets who spoke to Israel, and 
who wrote out their addresses afterward in that per- 
manent form which has survived to this day, that we 
begin the study of Israel's history. Before them we 
have confused and contradictory traditions with a large 
admixture of myth. With them we seem to arrive 
at the solid ground of reality. These prophets of the 
beginning of Israel's reliable history do not spring 
into existence all at once. There are intimations of 
the presence of prophets in the time of Samuel, that 
is before Israel became a kingdom. There appear to 
have been communities or groups of them. These 
groups we may call " schools of the prophets." And 
possibly they were like certain communities of monks 


flourishing in later times, and some of which were 
devoted to specific objects. These men were known 
as " men of the spirit," or inspired, and were prob- 
ably subject to ecstatic visions. They contemplated 
holy things, and not without result. Thus in due 
time arose an official class, connected with the govern- 
ment or with the priesthood. There were some who 
were authorized to speak, and who gave their predic- 
tions concerning the outcome of wars and other enter- 
prises. Others commanded a hearing, whether belong- 
ing to the recognized prophetic class or not. They 
were the real, as distinguished from the official pro- 
phets. These uttered their warnings and admonitions 
simply because they had something to say, and were 
determined to say it. 

Perhaps one of the first of the prophets who wrote 
his predictions was Amos, who flourished a little later 
than the time of Solomon. He prophesied against 
Damascus and its sins, against Gaza, Tyre, Idumaea, 
Ammon, and others, and finally against Israel. He 
seems to have predicted the downfall of all these. 
His prophecies have been justified by events : for 
none of the cities and families against whom he 
spoke remain, except Israel. Amos uttered his pro- 
phecies at Bethel, which was at that time the centre 
of worship of Israel. The chief priest at Bethel sent 
word to the king of Israel to inform him that Amos 
was forming conspiracies against the kingdom, and 
that the land would be utterly unable to bear his 
words. Finally, the priest bade Amos go out of the 
land and live in Judah. " Thou shalt no longer 
prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary." 
Amos answered, professing to be no prophet, " I 
was not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I 

> A^ao^ W voJ l ^^ 


was a herdsman and a gatherer of figs. And Jeho- 
vah took me from the sheep, and said to me, Go 
prophesy to my people Israel." This is the man who, 
while disclaiming the prophetic office, claimed the 
prophetic gift. His theory of the work of the pro- 
phet may be gathered from these words, "Jehovah 
will do nothing without revealing instruction to his 
servants, the prophets." Nothing more clearly sums 
up the idea which the genuine prophets had of their 
own service. Jehovah would as surely reward iniquity, 
as pain would follow a bruise. Of that there was no 
doubt in any true prophet's mind. Israel would fall, 
as Amos declared, nay, in effect was already fallen. 
At one time he declared that Israel should never rise, 
but the warning of the catastrophe would surely pre- 
cede the event. 

By such words as these we acquire a knowledge of 
the field or province of prophecy. Jehovah will do 
nothing without revealing instruction to his servants, 
the prophets. If we judge these words fairly, and 
in their connection, we shall escape that false notion 
of prophecy which has had so wide a following at 
various times. The herdsman was attending to the 
duties of his vocation, and meanwhile meditating 
upon the state of things in his nation, and in other 
nations. He was alive to the degeneracy of the times. 
%,He saw, as plainly as he could see his flocks, that calam- 
ity would follow such degeneracy. Because he saw it, 
he felt that Jehovah was calling him away from his 
flocks to go and tell Israel of the woes which should 
surely overtake the nation, unless it changed. He 
who sees things of importance to his time, and is 
deeply convicted of them, leaves his flocks or what- 
ever of personal interest might withhold him, and goes 
as his conscience, that is to say, as God, calls hiim 


The scope of the prophet thus called is strictly 
limited. He is not a fortune-teller. He does not 
so much foretell future events as describe the certain 
result of present tendencies. It was characteristic of 
the Israelitish prophets to declare in a thousand ways 
that Israel would be rooted up out of its home and 
carried away. It was the way of conquest in those 
times to transfer a conquered people from their soil. 
It is notable that a great military power afterward 
arose which left the conquered peoples where it found 
them ; but that mode had not yet come. It was easy, 
therefore, for the prophet to see that Israel would be 
deported, when it should be conquered. Amos, liv- 
ing before the rise of the great Assyrian sovereignty, 
saw that Israel would be conquered by some of the 
surrounding powers. 

We have already seen that Israel's writers were 
clearest in their history in the times nearest them- 
selves ; that as they went back into the past they be- 
came involved more and more in that inaccuracy 
which belongs to lack of knowledge. It may be said 
that their best view of the future was of things immi- 
nent, not of things afar off. If they had their dreams 
of far-off times in the future, they were of such stuff 
as our dreams of the distant future is commonly com- 
posed. We ourselves are not without our prophets, 
who foretell us the future. Perhaps one of the most 
widely read of modern books is the dream of Mr. 
Bellamy. It is a forecast of the time when socialism 
shall be realized and shall bless the world. Only we 
are very sure that it can never come to pass, and for 
obvious reasons. The chief value of the prophecy 
of Mr. Bellamy does not at all lie in the picture of 
the end of the twentieth century. That is merely a 


piece of literature, and of an attractive form. The 
great value of the book is that it calls attention to the 
present tendencies. It may not even be a correct 
view of them, — undoubtedly is an imperfect view, 
but it is like a voice of warning which startles us, 
and sets us considering how we may possibly amend 

I do not see why it should not be precisely as true 
now as it was in the days of Amos, that God will do 
nothing without revealing instruction to his servants 
the prophets. Yet the limit of the prophetic gift is 
to be soberly admitted. It is simply impossible for 
any finite intelligence to pry far into the future ; 
while it is not only possible, but of common experi- 
ence, that the best instructed men of any age are 
precisely those who know something of their present, 
and by light of it are able to discern the near-by 
future. We may conclude, reasonably, that if a 
prophet had arisen in Israel who could have foretold 
the discovery of a new continent, to be called America, 
and by the energy and skill of a man of one of the 
western nations, and at a time corresponding with our 
year of the Christian era, 1492, then we should have 
to hold that prophecy is of a miraculous nature — a 
kind of fortune-telling, and that by its aid we may 
look far into the future ; but we find no such definite 
instance of the scope of the prophecy. What we do 
find is the prediction of the downfall of Israel, its con- 
quest by its enemies, and that prophecy was fulfilled. 
There were wise men in our own land half a century 
ago who predicted the trouble that was rising already 
concerning the slave. It was given to one statesman 
to declare, upon a memorable occasion, that between 
the system of slavery and freedom there is an irre 


pressible conflict. Yet neither the time nor the man- 
ner of the issue of the conflict could be predicted 
until the time was at hand. God gives us intelligence 
of things which are shortly coming to pass. Not to 
the foolish, and not to the indifferent, but to those 
who love the ways of truth and hate evil, God gives 
intimation of his work before the work is accom- 
plished. That is what Amos tells us, and that is also 
what wide experience corroborates. 

Our intelligence is of such sort that it does not 
concern itself altogether with the immediate present. 
It takes hold upon the past, and lays its grasp upon 
the future. The wise can always foresee things, and 
do foresee them. We plan ahead, and we heed the 
warnings of experience, but if any one projects his 
imagination too far into the future, and attempts to 
declare the things which shall come to pass remotely, 
he is sure to fail in his predictions. Or, if he at- 
tempts to use the language of precision, and to de- 
scribe in detail some far-off events, he will surely 

There is a considerable diversity in the prophets of 
Israel. It is in the study of this diversity that our 
scholars have arrived at the degree of probability, 
which amounts practically to certainty, that our book 
of Isaiah, in the Bible, is not the work of one prophet. ) 
Both of the prophets who were in the main the authors 
of the book of Isaiah are to be distinguished very 
clearly from the sort of prophet who wrote the book 
of Ezekiel. He is more given to ecstasy, and to the 
Assyrian method, than others of the prophets. He 
entertains hopes, which lead him to predict things 
which have not come to pass. We may be quite sure 
that the things he foresaw, some of them in very 


detail, will never come to pass. He tells us that the 
word of Jehovah came to him, to take one stick and 
write upon it, " For Judah, and those of Israel who 
were associated with him." He was likewise to take 
another stick and write upon that, " For Joseph, the 
stick of Ephraim, and those of Israel associated with 
him." Now it is plain that by these two sticks, thus 
named, is signified the two kingdoms into which the 
original one kingdom of David and Solomon had been 
separated. Such an allegorical object-lesson teaching 
was not uncommon in Israel. The people would ask 
the prophet what the sticks meant, and he would tell 
them that they meant the divided houses of Israel. 
The sticks would become one ; and so after all the 
years of division, the two houses would be united 
again. Of one thing we are very certain, and that is 
that this union has never taken place. I think it is 
admitted, even by the most conservative of students, 
that Israel or Ephraim remained distinct. After the 
Babylonian exile, it seems that much of that portion 
of Israel which is represented by the name Ephraim 
became merged in other peoples, and lost its identity. 
Now, if we were to analyze the feelings of the 
prophet, considering his tender patriotism, and his 
pious trust in the words of those who had gone before 
him, we should see that it seemed a very word of 
Jehovah to him that the sundered Israel would be re- 
stored, and that it would take up its neglected mission 
to the nations, and perform it faithfully to the end. 
The old twelve tribes, the tribes of the promises which 
had recently been rehearsed in the ears of the return- 
ing exiles, would rise, as out of the very valley of 
death in which they had fallen, and would be an 
exceeding great army, enough to conquer the world. 


This was the prophet's hope, and it became his pre- 
diction, but it was not fulfilled. To-day there is no 
reason, except the prediction of the prophet, to hope 
that it will be fulfilled. It were as well to expect that 
Assyria itself, and the Tyrian, Carthaginian, or old 
Roman hosts, would rise out of the dust of long-past 
centuries. Let us glance at it a moment. If there 
were ten tribes, partly deported to the distant East, 
and if these peoples became assimilated with other 
peoples, taking their language and their customs, in- 
termarrying with them, then our tribes become " lost 
tribes," — lost by assimilation with foreign nations. 
It is easy enough to see why it would not require a 
long period for them to become indistinguishable from 
others, because they would not be Israelitish after a 
few generations. We are accustomed to the idea that 
omnipotence does not make impossibles possibles. To 
cause a race of human beings, now, or at some future 
time inhabiting the earth, to revert to ancient condi- 
tions, to take the mixture of races, already accom- 
plished, out of their blood, is certainly one of the im- 
possibles, if any such there are in all the wide domain 
of nature. 

An impetuous and almost frantic zeal has been 
awakened in the heart of many prophetic enthusiasts 
with reference to the fulfillment of prophecy. They 
have searched the Scriptures and found the predic- 
tions, and having already in mind the fundamental 
proposition that the Scriptures are all and altogether 
from the infallible wisdom of God, they have pro- 
ceeded to predict the regathering of scattered and lost 
Israel, the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds 
of the sky, the rapture of saints, the confusion and 
condemnation of the disobedient. Thereby the study 


of the prophecies of Israel has been discredited, and 
fallen into disuse. The richest product of Israel's 
wisdom and experience has thus become for the most 
part of no value to the modern religious world. This 
arises from the notion that prophecy is a mirac- 
ulous gift, that it is apart from the laws which gov- 
ern thought and judgment, and that the prophets 
could view the far-off future ; whereas the prophets 
are the men who perceive the tendencies of things, 
and the inevitable consequence of the decline of morals 
and of responsibility. They can look into the future, 
but they are governed by the laws of thinking. They 
are as liable to make such mistakes as Ezekiel made 
as other men of insight are to go astray in their esti- 
mates of things. 

In respect to prophecy we force our belief beyond 
the bounds of reason when we consider that men of 
any age can predict a remote future, except in the 
most general features of it. It is open to any prophet 
to maintain the ultimate conquest of good over evil, 
but to tell us in what form the good shall display it- 
self, or how the conquest shall be effected in detail, is 
simply beyond that finite knowledge which prescribes 
our limitation. If ever an infinite being were to be 
among us, as one of our kind, — which is an impos- 
sibility to thought, since such a being would not be 
of our kind, — then the most remote future might be 
spoken forth as though it were the present. 

By reason of a strange perversity we have been in 
the habit of ranking the prophets of Israel, earlier 
and later, with the astrologers and fortune-tellers. We 
have credited them with an ability which transcends 
mortal powers. We have read into them more than 
they could have meant, and we have not dared to 


revise their conclusions when they required revision. 
Out of such perversion have arisen the fanaticisms 
which came with the Reformation, — the vagaries of 
the fifth monarchy men, — the fright produced by Wil- 
liam Miller in the forties of this century, and the vari- 
ous earnest but unreasonable fancies of those who have 
been looking for the end of the world. Even now, 
and from the seat of one of our principal institutions 
of learning, warnings are sent forth that the world is 
on the verge of ultimate disaster ; that the mercy or 
grace of God is to come to a pause within a few 
months, and that we have fallen upon the last times. 
There is much to justify these extravagances in the 
words of the prophets, especially some of the prophets, 
but there is nothing to justify them in the idea which 
the best of the prophets had of their own province. 
They were called from other occupations, not to predict 
the fall of empires not yet risen, but to warn people of 
the impending consequences of their faults. Because 
they devoted themselves to such a work, adapted to 
their times, and therefore, in the deep meaning of 
it, to other times as well, they have given us the word 
of Jehovah, unto which we also do well that we take 
heed, as to a light shining in a dark place. 

The prophetic gift is not an abnormity. It is more 
or less put in use in every age. It was exercised by 
Lord Bacon when he wrote his " Novum Organum." 
Plato was a prophet when he wrote the " Republic." 
Washington was a prophet when he wrote his farewell 
letter. Every great statesman produced by time has 
been a prophet, or he could not have been a great 
statesman. The gift of forecast is as natural .to man 
as is the gift of history-making : the one gift is sup- 
plementary to the other in many cases. To no class 


were the people of Israel so deeply indebted as to 
the prophets ; it was not the priests who strove to 
keep Israel in the paths of Jehovah and his righteous- 
ness. It was not the scribes of a later period, it was 
not always or often the kings, but the prophets, those 
speakers for Jehovah, whose words move our hearts 
after so long a time ; these were the men of God, the 
men of the Spirit, the men of the forward look. Ac- 
cording to the opening words of the Epistle to the 
Hebrews in our New Testament, God is said to have 
spoken, not through the priests and the elders or 
chiefs, but through the prophets. They foretold, be- 
fore they came to pass, the consequences of righteous- 
ness and of iniquity. 

(We have the assurance that Jehovah would do 
nothing without revealing instruction to his servants, 
the prophets. That seems to hold true all along the 
track of all ages. The wisest and best of men have 
foreseen. They have enjoyed the revelation in their 
own reasons of the doings of Jehovah. They have 
been able to forewarn the people, and often to avert 
the disaster which surely follows unrepented wrong. 
Their function has never been to tell us of the end 
of the world and of the coming of the Son of Man 
in the clouds of heaven, when every eye shall see him. 
That has come through no prophetic gift, but through 
the frenzy which good men fall into when they tran- 
scend their powers of true thinking. We have to 
distinguish true prophecy from false; we have to 
apply the test which the prophets themselves give us 
when they undertake to tell of the things which must 
shortly come to pass. Under whatsoever figures of 
beasts and trumpets and horns and crowns and other 
phenomena they speak to us, they mean that we 


shall get out of it some guidance for our conduct, 
some help to our betterment. If any of them tran- 
scend that purpose, and serve to gratify our morbid 
curiosity touching the hidden things of futurity, we 
shall be neither the wiser nor the better for their im- 
aginations. It is the true prophet who says to us, 
" Come, let us reason together. Though your sins be 
as scarlet, they shall be white like wool. Cease to do 
evil and learn to do well." It is the false prophet 
who awakens our morbid terrors by pictures of the 
crash of elements and the downfall of the world in 
final ruin. 



\JThe ground of authority is not the same to a child 
and a man. The child is under tutors and governors, 
who dogmatize. A statement is of authority to a 
child because it comes from an official person. The 
parent, the tutor, or the appointed guardian stands in 
a relation of authority to the child, and the child 
accepts what is told by this competent person as 
truth. It is therefore of the very last importance 
that teachers and parents should teach children, not 
carelessly, and not ignorantly, but with great prudence 
and wisdom. When, however, the child becomes a 
man, the childish things are put away. Then things 
are not accepted upon the authority of any one, but 
simply upon their merit. That is the main moral dif- 
ference between child and man. The ground of au- 
thority has shifted. As it is with the individual, so is 
it with the race as a whole. In the childhood of the 
race things are accepted upon the dogmatic assertion 
of some persons in authority. As the race advances, 
it more and more shifts its ground from the dogma 
and the speaker to the merit and the thing spoken. 
The shifting process is one of disturbance and of anx- 
iety. It must needs come, otherwise the race is kept 
in its childhood, and does not reach its true estate. 
To the child portion of the religious world, authority 
is still vested in official persons, and their dogma is 


accepted with as good a grace as may be. The adult 
portion of the religious world is at this very day 
stoutly making its revolt against the child method ; 
so that, to the casual and superficial observer, all au- 
thority seems to be set at defiance. To those who look 
deeper into the phenomenon, there is evidence that we 
are witnessing in fact no dissolution of authority, but 
a shifting of its ground. In other words, the child 
begins to show signs of manhood. The child asks, in 
respect to any commandment, or proposition, " Who 
says it?" The man asks, "Is it true?" The child 
has reference to its parents, tutors, or guardians, the 
man has reference to the merit of the matter. If we 
observed this distinction, to which I think the Apostle 
Paul helps us, great confusion, and possibly much heat 
and anger, would be avoided. Children's things for 
children, men's things for men. At the same time it 
ought to be the aim of all men to help the growth of 
children, so that they should not remain in a perpetual 
state of adolescence. 

Not a few religious people are greatly disturbed by 
the discovery which begins to dawn upon us that 
Moses did not write the books which we have ascribed 
to his authorship. We have been told that with the 
going of Moses all our religion goes. The child who 
has not been able to put away childish things cries 
for Moses. The man who is beginning to put away 
childish things is less disturbed at the departure of 
Moses as a dogmatist. The work which has been 
credited to Moses, and all other work, by whomsoever 
done, must rest entirely upon its merits. Not so to a 
child, but precisely so to a man. The authority of 
the Bible taken altogether, as a great literature of 
the religious past, is coming to rest entirely on the 


merit of it. This perhaps were a rash proceeding 
four centuries ago, when the Bible was dug up out of 
its burial and put into the hands of the people. A 
growth has been going on since, more or less appre- 
hended by the more adult portion of the Christian 
communities, which makes necessary the shifting of 
the ground of authority. To a child, that is, the un- 
developed religious intelligence, the saying of a pro- 
phet is the end of doubt. The prophet is recognized 
as God's appointed tutor and governor. The law is 
recognized as the schoolmaster, whose word is final. 
The man forgets the tutor and the schoolmaster, and 
institutes inquiry concerning the reasonableness of the 
thing taught. So far have we come in the creation of 
the world, that men are beginning to assert themselves, 
and the childish mind of the world is shocked. 

My proposition is that the prophets of Israel have 
a merit which makes their words superior to those of 
the prophets and diviners of other nations. These 
words are put into the mouth of Moses, addressed to 
Israel before they came into the promised land : " For 
all these nations whose land thou shalt inherit, they 
will listen to omens and divinations, but Jehovah has 
not permitted thee so to do." " Jehovah shall raise up 
to thee a prophet of thy brethren, like unto me ; him 
shall ye hear." While Israel did have its diviners 
and readers of omens, and other such, by the time of 
the golden age of prophets there had grown up' such 
a prophetic work as no other nation experienced. 
How far different this work was from that of the di- 
viners and soothsayers, or fortune-tellers of other peo- 
ples, one has only to read in order to see. The diviner 
does not care to preserve a record of his work. He 
wishes the public favor and applause. He wishes to 


be consulted and made much of. Now it transpires 
that the prophets of the golden age were those who 
were not made much of except in an unpleasant way ; 
and, characteristically, they were addicted to forfeit- 
ing the public favor. They must have seemed to the 
simple minded of the people to be always engaged in 
tearing down something. They were precisely that 
class of malcontents which will not let well enough 
alone. I speak now of the golden age of the prophets. 
That age was reached through various experiences. 
Sometimes the prophets appear as belonging to the 
popular party as against the tyranny of the kings. (They 
stand for the welfare of the people, and for their lib- 
erties or rights. Afterward they take stand alone, each 
prophet independent, speaking against whatsoever 
meets his censure. 

The diviner is a patriot. He is ready to prophesy 
against other peoples, but he does not prophesy against 
his own people. He wishes the success and glory of 
his own people. It was not so with the prophets of 
Israel. They stood against the evils of their own 
people. They loved righteousness better than the 
fatherland. They devoted themselves, first of all, and 
most of all, to producing righteousness. In that they 
shine in the firmament of history more than the seers 
of other peoples. In them, therefore, Israel has a 
real glory. It is because of them Christianity could 
find a'foundation. But what did the prophets wish to 
do ? They wished to improve the religion of the peo- 
ple. They appeal with Isaiah to the reason and con- 
science of men. They endeavor to show that there is 
only One who is entitled to our worship and service, 
one God, Jehovah. The people had never attained 
that conception. They believed that there were other 


gods beside Jehovah, and often worshiped them. 
This is evidenced by the words of the prophets them- 
selves. Jeremiah complains that Judah has as many 
gods as cities ; and over and over again protest is 
made against the gods worshiped in the borders of 
Israel. What the prophets wished above all things 
to do was to abolish the idea of many gods from the 
minds of the people. They resort time and again to 
the device of sarcasm, speaking of the artificer who 
takes a block of wood, and with part of it he kindles 
a fire wherewith to cook his food, and of the remainder 
he makes a god. The prophets ask whether the gods 
can help their devotees at a pinch : whether there is 
any eye fashioned by the carpenter which can see, or 
any ear which can hear. They at least could not en- 
dure the degrading, the besotting worship; because 
such worship always goes far to subvert the natural 
ideas of righteousness of the devotee. 

The prophets of the golden period proclaimed them- 
selves boldly the servants of the One God, Jehovah, 
than whom there was no other. The gods of the 
heathen were but fashioned things. There was no di- 
vinity nor even sense in them. Jehovah was righteous ; 
the Creator ; the rightful Sovereign of all. Next, 
Jehovah is not a visible being, — therefore not a being 
to be represented in any visible form. This was harder 
to proclaim and gain the assent of the people to than 
anything else. \The absolutely invisible, to children 
or to primitive people, is the same as the non-existent. 
Therefore the prophets of the golden period were ac- 
cused of and persecuted for breaking down and set- 
ting at naught the holy things. They were the re- 
formers ; and no reformers of any period have had 
a more difficult work than they,' Their work was no- 


thing less than to eradicate the primitive and strongly- 
rooted polytheism of the people, and to make them 
what they never had been, — the people of Jehovah. 

Before the time of historical criticism, as applied to 
the Bible, men have been in the habit of ascribing to 
Abraham, the reputed founder of Israel, the pure 
monotheism which really belongs to a much later age. 
It has been supposed, naturally enough, that from the 
time of Abraham on, Israel was essentially, or with 
some breaks and relapses, a nation of Jehovah, be- 
lieving in one only God. Later evidence seems to run 
counter to that supposition. The polytheistic word 
which serves to indicate a plurality of gods was em- 
bedded in the Hebrew language. While it became 
used afterward to apply to one God only, such was 
not its first use. Abraham, according to the traditions 
and legends which came down to the time of Ezra and 
Nehemiah, while he may have had glimmerings of the 
truth of one God, permits us to see that like the best 
men of his time he was powerfully influenced by the 
polytheistic notions and practices of the day. fHe 
offers his son in human sacrifice. His successors 
easily adopt the worship of the sacred bull.) 

It seems to be intimated by the prophet Amos that 
Israel in the wilderness was not a worshiper of Jeho- 
vah. " Have ye offered to me victims and sacrifices, 
O house of Israel, forty years in the wilderness ? 
Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the 
star of your god Raephan, the images of them which 
ye made for yourselves." Is it not possible, is it not 
even probable, that the Israelites, before they became 
established in Canaan, were almost altogether idola- 
ters, and that their very tabernacle was an idolatrous 
contrivance ? It accords with the truth that a pure 


monotheism is of late beginning in the annals of time. 
The true worshiper of Jehovah, such an one as Isaiah 
the prophet, looks upon the sacrifice of animals upon 
altars as no requirement of Jehovah, but as an abom- 
ination to him. 

^Nothing springs full grown into being. Israel's 
true religion, that which distinguishes it from all other 
people's and makes Israel in reality the people of Je- 
hovah, came to be through long periods of time. We 
do not fully see what it was until we reach the later 
prophets. We cannot even tell what were the convic- 
tions of the men of an earlier faith. As Abraham is 
portrayed to us, he confuses us. Even so late as the 
time of Elijah and Elisha, prophets who did not write 
or care to preserve the records of their works and 
times, we find a degree of the same confusion. It is 
difficult for our most expert scholars to determine with 
anything like certainty whether these prophets were 
opponents of certain forms of idolatry, as we certainly 
know their successors were. 

Whatever may have been antecedent to the work of 
the prophets of the golden period, it is manifest that 
they boldly and with a measure of success founded 
the real and final religion of Israel. It was against 
every obstacle in the way of popular prejudice and of 
persecution that they proceeded to establish their re- 
ligion of Jehovah. So bitter was the opposition to 
them that the memory of it lasted long in the mind- 
of the nation. There was an almost complete gulf 
between the prophets and the people. The priesthood 
and royalty, and the people, often at war with each 
other, were at one against the handful of the prophets. 
It was to this memory of the peculiar mission of the 
prophets that Stephen appealed when he accused the 


rulers and people of his own time : " Which of the 
prophets did not your fathers persecute ? " The per- 
secution was unexceptive, and demonstrates that with 
the prophets alone was the religion and service of 
Jehovah. Accordingly, their work was to establish 
their convictions in the hearts and characters of the 
people. Nothing less than that. 

For a long time the people had held to Jehovah as 
their tribal god, but that did not hinder them from 
believing also in other gods. Jehovah was their na- 
tional god, and dwelt in their house, which they had 
built at Shiloh, at Dan, Shechem, and Bethel, and 
finally at Jerusalem. Moab had another god, and the 
Philistines other gods. These gods, too, were power- 
ful, and might render help if properly approached. 
What the prophets undertook was to urge not only 
the supremacy of Jehovah, but to make plain that 
there is no God but the One ; that righteousness is 
not a variable thing determined by the character of 
local deities, but is fixed. \Moreover, that it belongs 
to conduct. To the prophets good was the same as 
life, and evil the same as death. " Seek good and not 
evil, that ye may live : and so Jehovah shall be with 
you, as ye have said." 

It is evident that the people at various times wor- 
shiped images which represented Jehovah to them. 
After the partition of the kingdom, it is related that 
because the people went up to Jerusalem to worship, 
Jeroboam, the king of Israel, conceived the necessity 
of having them stay at home and worship. Because 
if they continued to go to Jerusalem his own kingdom 
would of course be lost. He made two young bulls of 
gold, and placed one in Bethel and the other in Dan, 
and said to his people : " It is too much for you to go 


up to Jerusalem ; behold thy gods, Israel, which 
brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." It is 
not doubtful that these two images represented the 
one tribal or national god, the one who had delivered 
their ancestors from the bondage. There are intima- 
tions in the period of the judges, as well as long after- 
ward, that Jehovah was worshiped in the form of the 
golden calf or the golden bull. There is a similarity 
between that worship and the worship of Moloch : in 
either case human sacrifice was probably practiced. 

So late as the time of the prophet Micah human 
sacrifice was in vogue, for Micah protests against it. 
Abraham is represented as ready to sacrifice his son 
and is commended for that readiness while hindered 
from carrying out the project. In the time of the 
judges, Jephthah vowed a human sacrifice to Jehovah, 
we are told, and sacrificed his own daughter, because 
she was the first to meet him on his return from an 
expedition. Samuel hewed Agag to pieces before Je- 
hovah, and David proposed to sacrifice the seven sons 
of Saul. These instances suggest, as do the works of 
Micah, that human sacrifice was practiced, and to a late 
day, by Israel, as it was by other nations. Moreover, 
the rite of circumcision appears to be the remnant of 
an older practice of human sacrifice. In brief, the sur- 
vival of abominations of cruelty, and that in the name 
of the religion of Jehovah, awakened in the prophets 
the purpose of a radical reformation. ") To abolish the 
cruelties was to a large extent their aim. Thus we 
perceive that their notion of righteousness was not a 
mere abstraction, or a mere assertion of righteousness 
in Jehovah, which by itself passes for nothing, but it 
was a positive announcement that the things of their 
religion which involved cruelty to man or beast were 
all wrong, and must be stopped. 


One cannot help thinking, in this connection, how 
the cruel dogma of a remorseless Jehovah, inflicting 
ever continuing pain upon his creatures, has tena- 
ciously held its ground in modern times ; and how bitter 
has been the experience of many who have attempted 
to reform that cruelty out of the religion of Christ.) 

We have reached the point where we may say that 
it was the aim of the prophets to establish humanity, 
or humane conduct and feelings, in the religion of the 
people. Of course feelings of humanity came earlier 
than the time of the prophets, but these feelings did 
not dominate the religion of Jehovah until their time. 
Jehovah, like the sun-god and like other gods, was 
supposed to demand sacrifices of various sorts. He 
was supposed to demand the cruelties of other heathen 
worship. In process of time the prophets came and 
declared that Jehovah requires simply the humanities. 
Notice the words of one of the prophets which di- 
rectly affirm this. Micah puts the words into the 
mouth of an Israelite. " Wherewith shall I come 
before Jehovah, and bow myself before the high God? 
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with 
calves of a year old ? Will the Lord be pleased with 
thousands of rams or with ten thousands of streams 
of oil ? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgres- 
. sion, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good ; and what 
doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and 
to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God ? j 
In such a saying as this we reach high-water mark of 
the prophetic utterances. Jehovah requires of man 
none of the bloody sacrifices, requires none of the 
offerings of one's substance, which were so scrupu- 
lously made. He requires the humanities : mercy and 


justice. It is in the humanities that man walks hum- 
bly with his God. It is in the sacrifices and the inhu- 
manities that he departs from Jehovah, and misrep- 
resents Jehovah in the world. 

It has been supposed, and the idea has been most 
zealously supported, that Jehovah gave to Israel a 
law of sacrifices. That by observance of this law 
the man could set himself right with his offended God. 
The sacrifices of the altars have been held to symbol- 
ize the sacrifice of the Son of God as the offering for 
sin and the refuge and Saviour of sinners. Probably 
in the most recent times there is survival in much 
strength of the very notions against which the pro- 
phets proceeded. We note this survival in the words 
of formulas of prayer. In so many words men wor- 
ship God by pleading the merits of the sacrificed 
Christ. The question asked by the prophet, " Where- 
with shall I come before Jehovah, and bow myself 
before the high God?" is answered, not as he an- 
swered it, but as the Israelite answered it. In a 
form of language, containing some idea at least, men 
bow themselves before Jehovah, bringing forward the 
sacrificed Christ. It is supposed and asserted with 
great stress that God requires that. If at this late 
day, wherein the humanities have been greatly devel- 
oped, we fall short of the real religion of the prophets, 
we need not marvel at the difficulties which beset the 
prophets in carrying out their sublime aim. For it 
was their aim to bring about a pure worship, — a 
worship not of altars and not of sacrifices, but of 
just and humane feelings and conduct. That was 
pleasing to Jehovah ; all else was not pleasing to him. 

While all the prophets did not attain the same high 
standard of religion, while some of them counte- 


nanced the sacrificial forms of worship which belong 
to polytheism, yet it may be said of the later prophets 
that they furnish, and they exclusively, the necessary 
foundation for the Christian religion which was to 
complete their work. Not that Christian religion 
which is confused and shows its hopeless confusion by 
the large number of sects into which it has become 
split, the Christian religion of dogma, but the reli- 
gion of the humanities, the religion of mercy and 
justice and a humble walk with God. \ Were we to 
inquire into the development of religion in the world 
we might divide it into three great stages : First, the 
stage of fetichism — with remnants abiding to this 
day. Second, the stage of polytheism. The first is 
the lowest stage of human attainment. The second 
is an advance, but leaves much to be desired. In this 
stage are many gods ; gods of nations and families ; 
gods fighting each other in the warfare of their wor- 
shipers : this is the stage of sacrifices, human and 
other. The third stage, of which we may also say that 
it is the last, is the stage of the unity of God, one and 
only one God. This being is not to be represented in 
thought as the golden bull or in any image whatsoever. 
This is the being who demands of us the humanities, 
mercy and justice. This is the being in whose image 
we are being created. Thus the Christian religion 
presents to us not an unapproachable divinity and not 
a nature-god, always to be propitiated, but God mani- 
fest in the flesh — God in man. God walks in the 
humble and just and merciful man : for that concep- 
tion the prophets of Israel more than any other have 
prepared us. 



The Jehovah of the earlier Israelites was not, and 
in the nature of the case could not have been, the 
same as the Jehovah of a more advanced period. The 
Jehovah of David was not the Jehovah of Isaiah. It 
is because the concepts of people change. In respect 
to all things which engage their attention there is a 
growing change of opinion ; but because of the con- 
servative influence always in more or less force, the 
change of opinion does not go on uninterrupted. It 
is a stream frequently blockaded, and the result is that 
the changes of opinion assume appearance of violent 

In Israel's history we note as successive changes of 
conception those revolutionary periods, such as the 
escape from the house of bondage ; the formation of 
a kingdom under David ; the disruption of the king- 
dom afterward ; the Babylonian exile, and finally the 
establishment of the Christian religion. All of these 
changes strike us as being very great, especially the 
last. They seem to come suddenly. That is because 
the process of change, which is as continual as the 
growth of a flower from the seed, was continually ob- 
structed by the conservative feelings of men. Since 
the changes could not go in the form of an orderly 
progression, they came in the form of, or accompanied 
by, national disasters or deliverances. 


Now the prophets were certainly ignorant of things 
which Mr. Darwin could have told them. They did 
not know that all men rise, but do not descend, from 
lower ranks of life. They did not know what the 
theistic evolutionist of to-day sees to be highly credi- 
ble in the light of what Mr. Darwin has shown him, 
that all progress goes on by successive changes ; or 
that as it was in the lower orders, so is it also with the 
higher orders. There were mollusks and there were 
fishes. The mollusk is a creature far inferior in or- 
ganization to the fish, and yet God is equally the 
creator of both. Moreover, each comes in its own 
time : first the lower, and afterward the higher from 
the lower. The prophets did not know this, I say. 
Nor did they need to know it ; but if those who had 
to do with preparing the canon of the Old Testament, 
and whose duty it was to give here and there a title to 
a piece of sacred literature, or to indicate something 
in regard to its authorship, had known it, they would 
not have made the mistake of attributing to one period 
that which belongs to another. 

Changes in our concepts of things go on, sometimes 
imperceptibly, but they do steadily go on. These 
changes make different periods, as really as successive 
changes in animal structure make different periods in 
the history of the physical world. We have means of 
identifying the periods. The historical critics of *the 
Bible are like the geologists ; they have discovered 
how to place the relative time of customs, laws, pro- 
phecies, and the like. 

It is quite safe to say that the prophetic books of 
the Bible do not hold a very high place in the interest 
of the average religious man of to-day. He regards 
them as sacred books, to be sure, and therefore to be 


reverenced, but he does not read them with interest. 
Their language is foreign to his understanding. Their 
imagery seems to him far-fetched. He knows a great 
deal more about the parts of the Bible which tell him 
stories of heroes. He knows of Samson, the Hercules 
of the Bible, and of Moses, the Nestor, and of the 
patriarchs. The story of Ruth is attractive to him 
as a pastoral. He reads the book of Esther, and be- 
cause it is in the Bible he thinks it is a sacred book, 
(jf he were to find it outside of the Bible, he would 
feel no great regard for it, but might even look upon 
it as Luther did, a book unworthy of respect. Luther 
thought the story of Esther ought to be destroyed. 
The prophetic literature, which is the really valuable 
literature of Israel, he cannot force himself to take 
a lively interest in, as a rule. 

On the other hand, the enthusiastic study of pro- 
phecy is peculiar to certain sects, and to those who look 
for a speedy downfall of the world. In the prophets 
there are many things upon which the imagination 
seizes, as importing the end of the world and the 
minor catastrophes connected therewith. The study 
of prophecy is therefore generally understood to imply 
an interest in the " last things." We cannot help feel- 
ing that there is almost always an element of fanat- 
icism in such interest. Those who have entertained 
the ideas of the modern expositors of prophecy, and 
who have been thrown out of mental balance thereby, 
and have tormented themselves and others with visions 
of an impending sounding of a last trumpet, with 
the summons to appear before the judge, and receive 
sentence, etc., have made prophecy seem to us an en- 
thusiasm, and an imposition as well. All this misun- 
derstanding and misapplication has been due to an 


uncritical study of the prophets. Our enthusiastic 
teachers have piled up texts on texts. They have 
made selection of passages, and taken them out of their 
connection, and have supposed these things all bore 
on the same subjects. Moreover, they have gone upon 
the theory that the prophets were men who knew some- 
thing about the end of the world. A more careful 
study would have assured them that the end of the 
world lies beyond the ken of any one, and that while 
some of the prophets seem to be talking about the end 
of the world, they are in reality talking of the near 

We have read the prophets too, without much con- 
sideration of the time in which they respectively lived 
and spoke. Therein we have been unskillful and 
have suffered for it. Our scholars have done much 
to clear away these difficulties. We can identify the 
periods more accurately. In our common editions of 
the Bible we find the short books of two prophets to- 
gether. The first is Joel, and the second is Amos. 
Upon consulting the small figures in reference Bibles, 
we see that these books were written about the same 
time, namely about 800 b. c. Of course no dates 
are given in the text of the books themselves, any 
more than dates are written in the silurian rocks. 
The time of the composition of these books has been 
supposed to be identical. For some reason Joel was 
put first, and Amos second. If these books had been 
read in the light of history, and a careful study of 
history, it would have been impossible to put Joel first 
and Amos second. It is by the light of historical crit- 
icism we find that Amos is one of the very first of 
Israel's prophets who recorded his thoughts ; perhaps 
the very first of those whose actual words have come 


down to us. If an attempt had been made to have 
the prophecies follow each other in a chronological 
order, Amos would have headed the list, and prob- 
ably the next would have been Hosea ; and one of the 
last would have been Joel, — for he spoke and wrote 
in the Greek period, more than two and a half centu- 
ries later. 

Joel wrote in a vivid style, and is supposed to have 
written explicitly about the " last days." In the Acts 
of the Apostles he seems to be quoted as one who fore- 
told the last days. It is therefore well worth our while 
to read him carefully, to find if he really does that. 
The immediate occasion of his prophecy is a plague 
of locusts which devastated the land in his time. His 
description is at once that of a prophet and that of a 
poet. The pest is like a fire, moving on to devour 
everything before it. When the locusts came, the land 
was as the Garden of Eden, but after their onslaught 
the land was a wilderness, and nothing escaped them. 
They were like a great army, conquering, as by spears 
and chariots and horsemen. All of this, which would 
be plainly described as a grasshopper plague, he dwells 
upon and sees in it the devastations of Jehovah, who 
is offended with the people on account of their sins. 
The locusts make up Jehovah's army. " They shall 
run to and fro in the city ; they shall run upon the 
wall, they shall climb up upon the houses, they shall 
enter in at the windows like a thief. The earth shall 
quake before them, the heavens shall tremble ; the sun 
and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall with- 
draw their shining : and Jehovah shall utter his voice 
before his army, for his camp is very great ; for strong 
is he that executeth his word ; for the day of Jehovah 
is great and very terrible, and who can abide it ? " 


Here is a prophet who does not seem to be telling 
about future events, but about things then transpiring. 
A plague of locusts is upon the land : it is Jehovah's 
time, or day, — the day of reckoning with his people. 
Jehovah it is who is cutting off all the green things 
from the earth, who is causing the crops of the hus- 
bandmen to disappear, who is taking away from the 
flocks and herds their food ; and instead of plenty 
there is a famine. 

In our own West, when the locust plague has come, 
and the sun has been darkened by the vast clouds of 
the enemy ; when the farmers have seen their toil go 
for nothing, everything destroyed as by sudden blight, 
if any among them were convinced that God is punish- 
ing the people for their sins, and that God has times 
of reckoning with the people, and if he were all the 
time watching the destructive march of the plague, 
he could speak perhaps in the vivid language of Joel. 
He could say that the Day of the Lord had come, 
and that it was a very terrible day, " who can abide 

This prophet Joel is not a prophet of woe. He 
does not dwell on the dark side of things, to magnify 
that. He says it is right for Israel to mourn, and to 
clothe itself in sackcloth. Then he raises the song 
of hope. He begs the people to mourn and lament 
over their wrong-doing. He begs the priests, the min- 
isters of Jehovah, to put forth their supplications, and 
say, " Spare thy people, O Jehovah, and give not thine 
heritage to reproach, that the heathen should use a 
byword against them: wherefore should they say 
among the people, where is their God ? " For the 
Gentiles would say of a people so plagued that their 
god had forsaken them, or that he was powerless to 


avert the evils thrust upon them by some greater 
power. The prophet feels that it has all come in retri- 
bution for the vices and sins of the people. It is not a 
time when Jehovah has gone away, but it is his day ; 
a great and terrible day. However, that is not the 
end of it. He who wounds will also heal. If repent- 
ance is had, Jehovah will be " jealous for his land " 
and will pity his people. " Yea, Jehovah will answer 
and say unto his people, behold I will send you corn 
and wine and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith." 
The prophet foresees that Jehovah will drive the in- 
vading army of locusts off into the desert. Then the 
famished beasts of the field will have their pasturage, 
the tree will bear her fruit, the vine will flourish. 
The threshing-floors will once more be full of wheat, 
and the vats will overflow with the oil and wine. By 
means of this recovered prosperity the nation will 
know that Jehovah is in the midst of her ; and will 
trust in Jehovah, and serve him. 

Thus far in this prophet we have heard nothing 
about the last times, but only about the times then 
present. There is the plague of locusts, which, in 
the vivid feeling of the prophet, makes the earth to 
quake and the heavens to tremble, and darkens the 
sun and moon. The destructive army of Jehovah, 
cutting off our food and making a famine for us, is 
turning the light itself into darkness. Who can abide 
the time? The prophet is hopeful. He hopes that 
his people will repent of their evil courses and turn 
in humility to Jehovah, whom they have offended, and 
that Jehovah will forgive and restore them. The 
prophets of Israel, even those who lament the most 
and seem to be most impressed with the failure of 
Israel to follow and obey Jehovah, are yet hopeful. 


They seem to see in Jehovah much more than a king ; 
they see one who punishes people for their good, and 
who works in his people by his Spirit toward their 
betterment. So Joel, after all that he has said in 
the other strain, returns to the joyful and trium- 
phant note, " Fear not, O land ; be glad and rejoice, 
for Jehovah will do great things." In place of the 
famine consequent upon the locust plague shall surely 
come plenty, and the people shall be satisfied, and 
" ye shall praise the name of Jehovah your God that 
hath dealt wondrously with you." 

Then comes the song of Israel's triumph. It is in 
this song of triumph that the convictions of the later 
prophets spoke. Israel's God is no longer a tribal 
god, one among many powerful deities. Whatever 
he had been to earlier prophets, now at last the clear 
conviction of the monotheist is visible. After Israel 
is restored, having duly repented of its sins and re- 
turned to Jehovah and his service, it should come to 
the fulfillment of exceeding great and precious prom- 
ises, as the Apostle Peter said, " And it will come to 
pass afterward, I will pour out of my spirit upon all 
flesh." A few in Israel had enjoyed the peculiar fa- 
vor of Jehovah. The spirit of prophecy did not be- 
long to the people generally, but only to the devoted 
ones who were persecuted ; but all that should be 
changed. Jehovah would pour out his Spirit upon 
young and old. Not only upon the free born, but 
upon the very slaves themselves. Every one should 
prophesy, young and old, bond and free. 

The great thought of the prophet is that Jehovah 
will put forward his people Israel to accomplish their 
work. He has not been able to reach the nations with 
his judgments and grace because of the faithlessness 


of his people ; but with the return of the nation to 
its fealty, Jehovah would carry out his purposes. Then 
Jerusalem would become firmly established ; and in 
Mount Zion would be deliverance. For Jehovah dwells 
in Mount Zion, and from Mount Zion must go forth 
the laws for all nations. 

It requires no violence of interpretation to follow 
the prophet's thoughts in a direction he himself has 
indicated. As Jehovah had been dealing retributively, 
and for the purposes of correction and recovery, with 
Israel, so would he deal with all nations. As Israel 
had seen the sun darkened, and had felt the earth 
quake, by reason of its plague of the locusts ; so 
doubtless other nations should feel the same great 
trials, and be brought through the same straits, in order 
to bring them to seek deliverance in Jehovah, who 
dwelleth in Zion. Israel had experienced a great and 
terrible day of Jehovah, and other nations should ex- 
perience like wonders. " I will show wonders in the 
heavens and in the earth, blood and fire and vapor of 
smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and 
the moon into blood before the great and terrible day 
of Jehovah come." Some of our prophetic expositors 
have seen in this the portents of the last day. They 
have supposed that' the moon would become blood red 
in the evening sky, and the sun black (how could the 
moon be red while the sun is black?), and that other 
signs of impending disaster and final ruin should pre- 
sent themselves to the eyes of the watchful, if not to 
all eyes. Coupling with all this, too, the apocalyptic 
visions contained in the New Testament, they have 
warned us time and again of the dissolution of earthly 
affairs and the sounding of the last trump. 

Joel speaks of the locust plague which destroys 


the food supplies of man and beast in the same terms 
employed to characterize later proceedings of Jeho- 
vah with other nations. That is, the turning of the 
sun into darkness and the moon into blood, etc. He 
tells us that Jehovah will gather the Gentiles into the 
valley of Jehoshaphat to plead with them. He will 
there reckon with them for their treatment of Israel. 
He will recompense to Tyre and Sidon and all the 
coasts of Palestine all that they have done. The reck- 
oning of Jehovah with the nations, in the view of 
Joel, will take the form of a war of Israel with these 
other nations. And so he calls upon Israel to arm it- 
self. He raises the cry among the Gentiles also to 
prepare for war. " Beat your plow-shares into swords 
and your sickles into spears ! " In those days of fre- 
quent wars, and when Israel was recovering its strength 
after the captivity, menaced on all sides by other pow- 
ers, it was not wonderful that the prophet could foresee 
a coming strife. He was so full of the thought of 
Jehovah's might, and of his promises, that in this 
coming war he could see a great victory for the people 
of Jehovah, and Israel should regain its old glory. 
The city of Israel's king should prove to be the city 
of Jehovah: Jehovah should cry out of Jerusalem. 
He was the hope of his people ; in his might they 
should conquer. At last it would surely be proved 
to all men that Jehovah dwells in Zion ; that he 
is not merely the highest, but the only God. In this 
there is no hint of those last days of final judgment 
and destruction of the earth which our modern pro- 
phets have seen so vividly. The prophet Joel's mind 
does not concern itself with that. 

Nearly contemporary with Joel is the prophet Mal- 
achi. He may, indeed, have been a little earlier. He 


is one of those who speak of a day that is coming 
to Israel, a fiery and terrible day. The rise of this 
feeling concerning a day is not difficult to trace in the 
prophets. If we go back to those first of the prophets, 
Elijah and Elisha, those prophets who did not write, 
because writing was not much practiced in their time, 
but who did sharply rebuke the people for their evils, 
we shall find growing a sentiment in regard to Jeho- 
vah which became most prominent later. The nation 
was surrounded by powerful heathen kingdoms. There 
were Egypt and Damascus and Assyria, and others. 
These powers threatened the peculiar people of Jeho- 
vah. The future of Israel was, therefore, very doubt- 
ful. Would it be able to maintain itself ? Jehovah 
was indeed very powerful. He had delivered them 
from the house of bondage and brought them into the 
land flowing with milk and honey. Why then were 
they threatened by those powerful competitors ? Why 
were they in danger of being carried off into cap- 
tivity ? They found an answer to that. At least the 
prophets did. Jehovah was not only strong, but he 
was also just and holy. If the nation was to succeed, 
it must also be just and holy, for God would permit it 
to be defeated and carried into captivity, on account 
of its follies and wickedness. God required certain 
things to be done, and if they were not done, he would 
reckon with his disobedient servants. There would 
surely come the day of reckoning. It would be a day 
of downfall to that people, of great trial when it did 
come. God would sit as a refiner of silver ; he would 
try his people by sifting. 

In this country half a century ago, there were pro- 
phets, somewhat of the same sort as Malachi, who 
protested that a terrible result would arise from a ter- 


rible crime. It was a national crime, — that of human 
slavery. If one of them had chosen, he could have 
adopted the language of Malachi : " Behold, the day 
cometh that shall burn as an oven. 1 ' The day did 
surely come, a most fiery day, as all of that genera- 
tion can testify. 

Malachi was very sure that Judah would reap the 
reward of misdeeds, but also, like Joel, he was sure 
that the people would return to Jehovah, and that all 
the nations of the earth would have a great blessing 
because of Judah. " All nations shall call you blessed ! 
for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith Jehovah of 
hosts." Malachi, however, differs from earlier and 
far greater prophets in his views of the sins of the 
people. He wished them to keep the priestly laws 
very scrupulously, and because they did not, he de- 
nounced them. Now the first Isaiah cared nothing for 
those requirements of the priestly laws, but Malachi 
was in great offense because the people did not bring 
their tithes and promptly pay them. He was angry, 
as well he might have been, because they offered 
in sacrifice upon the altars the beasts which were 
not good for anything. He felt that was a direct 
insult to Jehovah, as indeed it was. The people 
brought the blind animals, and the lame and the sick ; 
such things as they would not dream of offering to 
their governor ; but these they thought quite good 
enough for the altars of Jehovah. This so wrought 
upon the feelings of the prophet, that he could see 
nothing but ruin and defeat and sorrow ahead, until 
they should repent. Can we wonder that a man, with 
strong feelings, and loving Jehovah and his require- 
ments, should have foreseen that the day would shortly 
come when Jehovah would try all this neglect and con- 
tempt most severely, and punish it ? 


It is evident to any who carefully study these pro- 
phets of the later period, that they were talking to 
Judah of the retribution they were bringing upon them- 
selves for their sins. Malachi may have supposed that 
Jehovah would send Elijah to warn the people before 
proceeding to extremities, but Malachi himself seeks 
to draw attention to the laws which he believed were 
given to Moses by Jehovah in Horeb. He wished the 
people to honor Jehovah by obedience of his laws. 
" Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there 
may be meat in mine house, and prove me now here- 
with, saith Jehovah of hosts, if I will not open you 
the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing." 

By these latest of the prophets we may perceive 
that prophecy relates not to another world, and not to 
the last days of this world, but to those things of im- 
mediate import, which concern the people to know. 
When we read into the vivid language of Joel the 
notions of last days, we make him demit his real office 
as an instructor of the people, to be a fortune-teller 
for later age, 


In the development of literature, fiction has a prom- 
inent place. The word " fiction " covers all that por- 
tion of literature which is invented, or mostly de- 
pendent on the imagination. Tales of all kinds, such 
as stories of the fairies, and fables, and parables, and 
all dramatic writings, and many poems, may be gen- 
erally grouped under the head of fiction. We com- 
monly use the word, however, in a more restricted 
sense, applying it mainly to the kind of books we call 
novels ; but it would apply to the plays of Shake- 
speare, the great poems of Milton, and the fables of 

Fiction is an early as well as an exceedingly val- 
uable part of literature. It appears in the mytholo- 
gies of all religions, in the Greek dramas, in great 
poems, like the Iliad of Homer, and in all literature 
of the more popular sort. It may be within the bounds 
of reason to say that the most important part of the 
world's literature, in many respects, is the literature of 
fiction. A writer reaches a public more swiftly and 
easily and successfully in that way than in any other. 
Long and involved didactic statements upon any sub- 
ject are no sooner uttered than they are forgotten by 
almost everybody. Arguments which have great final 
effects in the experience of people are not received as 
arguments, but are reduced to a form more vivid and 


dramatic before they conquer their way. Therefore, 
under that Providence which has to do with the flower 
of the plant, and the flower of speech as well, we are 
forced to accord a great place in the world's welfare 
and its intellectual and moral growth to the literature 
of fiction.-^x^^ 

Reluctance has been felt about admitting the pres- 
ence of fiction in the Bible. Perhaps upon the ground 
that the character of fiction is not clearly understood. 
If some ingenious person were to be asked a question 
by his neighbor, and were to invent the truth of his 
reply, in the most blunt fashion possible he would be 
called a liar. He undertakes to deceive his questioner, 
and bears false witness to his neighbor. Or if a man 
tells stories of adventure, as drawn out of his own 
personal experience ; if he asserts that he was in this 
and that battle, and conducted himself in a most heroic 
fashion, while the truth is he never saw a battle, his 
tales are works of fiction, but they are made with in- 
tent to deceive, and he is a liar. 

When we talk of fiction in literature we never 
mean anything of that kind, and we are not in the 
habit of attributing ill motives or dishonesty to the 
author of fiction. The writer of fiction may be, and 
is held to be (provided his character and work war- 
rant it), as thoroughly honest as the writer of the 
most carefully exact and unimaginative history. Vic- 
tor Hugo and Mrs. Stowe and George Eliot tell us 
of things which never transpired, as though they did 
transpire. That is the form in which they cast their 
thoughts, but no one need be deceived by it, and 
they do not wish any one to be deceived by it. They 
do not take the pains to tell us that Uncle Tom and 
Jean Valjean and Adam Bede never existed. In 


fact, they make them as real to us as possible. Yet, 
in spite of the fact that they are imaginary characters, 
and all the incidents imaginary also, we do not com- 
plain of deceit. 

I am sure if we knew the literature and spirit of the 
Bible better, we should have no hesitation in finding 
a plentiful element of fiction in it : and having rec- 
ognized it as fiction, we might proceed to get the truth 
it contains. For unless fiction be a vehicle of truth, it 
is either valueless or worse. Its only rightful use is 
that it should convey to us, and to all possible readers, 
the truth it is good for us to know. 

We are told that David, the great king of Israel, 
committed a frightful crime. It would not be regarded 
such at the time, and was not so regarded by the king 
himself ; but there was one man, at least, who looked 
with abhorrence upon it. He proposed to tell the 
king his opinion of it. He felt that he could express 
God's opinion about it, and that it was his duty to 
do so. We feel that he was right to think so, but it 
was a difficult matter to deal with. It has never been 
very easy to go and tell great despots their faults : one 
undertaking such a mission was likely to be deprived 
of all speech thereafter. So the good man invented a 
story. He prepared a fiction, as being the best means 
of doing that particular work. He successfully ac- 
complished the difficult mission by means of the little 
story he invented. A poor man had one lamb, a pet. 
He derived much of the comfort of his life from that 
pet lamb ; but a powerful neighbor, to whom had come 
a traveler, spared his own flocks, and took the poor 
man's lamb, killed it, and presented it to his guest for 
food. When David heard that story his anger was 
kindled, and he swore that the man who had done that 


wicked thing should die for it. Then the good pro- 
phet told him he was the man who had done that thing, 
only in a far worse way. It was a very skillful con- 
trivance on the part of Nathan to invent that story, 
and by it he accomplished more in the way of truth and 
righteousness than he could have done in any other 
way. j In the same manner Jesus told the story of the 
man who had two sons, and the one was thrifty and the 
other prodigal. The story will last as long as men talk 
and think, while the lesson given in the way of argu- 
ment would have died out in a short time. It was a 
pure work of fiction ; and unquestionably Jesus re- 
sorted to fiction more than almost any other great 
religious teacher. He gave to all moral truths the 
guise and dress of fiction. If the weighty argument 
of Paul to the Romans and the fiction of Jesus con- 
cerning the return of the prodigal were to be weighed 
in the balance over against each other, the fiction 
would be found to outweigh the other. ^ — 

We have been considering the way in which the 
historical portions of the Old Testament were made. 
We have seen that there is much of the history which 
could not pass for history, apart from its connection 
with the Bible. We have considered, too, how the 
prophets did their work, their aim in their work, and 
the fact that they were the great ethical teachers of the 
Jews ; but there was another kind of teaching, neither 
historical nor prophetic, which occupies a considera- 
ble space in the sacred pages. That is the portion of 
the Old Testament literature which is in the form of 

While fiction may be interwoven with the history, 
as in myths and legends, it more frankly confesses 
itself in other portions of the book, — as in the book 


of Job. Taken by all scholars, now, to be a dramatic 
poem, with a prose prologue and epilogue, it was ear- 
lier and generally taken to be historical narration. 

There is no entirely good reason why we should be 
more stupid about the Bible than about any other 
book. In fact, there is good reason why we should 
bring to the Bible a mind which has at least a little 
clearness. We ought to have just that sort of dis- 
crimination which will help us to distinguish between 
widely different kinds of writing. If any one had 
taken the pains to think about it he would not have 
dreamed that the things related in the book of Job 
ever happened ; not because they are miraculous things, 
but because that kind of writing has never been ap- 
plied to description of actual events, described in de- 
tail. Yet the time is not far past when the opinion 
that the book of Job is not history, or fact, would have 
shocked the feelings of almost all religious people. 
Now it shocks no one, because it has become very evi- 
dent that it is a dramatic poem. That has been 
ascertained by attention, by literary judgment, by 
commonplace discrimination. Educated persons have 
tried to make out the place of Satan in the general 
economy of the universe by what is said of him in the 
prologue to the book of Job. The sons of God came 
into the presence of God, and along with them came 
Satan. Perhaps he is one of the sons of God, turned 
bad. He roams around the earth, seeking who and 
what he may devour, but he finds time to come to the 
gathering of the sons of God. He is asked if he has 
given attention to that very just man, Job. Yes, he 
has noticed Job, but has no good opinion of him. 
Like all other men he is actuated by purely selfish 
motives. He serves God because he can make some- 


thing out of it. If the reader has not the discernment 
to discover the fiction form of that story, he is sadly- 
lacking in knowledge of most kinds. The characters 
of the drama talk in poetry. Men never do that in 
real life. As well might merchants set their sight 
drafts to music. In play, children may sometimes 
carry on a conversation in rude rhymes ; but this book 
of Job is intensely serious. Simply from the evidence 
of its contents to its character, it is understood by all 
intelligent readers that it is a made-up story. Nathan 
made up a story for David, as we have seen. Jesus 
made up a great many stories for his hearers. This 
is made up in order to convey a great spiritual lesson, 
and spiritual lessons are what we go to the Bible for. 
It seems to have taken us a long time to find out that 
a spiritual lesson may be as well conveyed in the liter- 
ature of the imagination — that is, in fiction — as in 
any other form. Oftentimes it is the best form. The 
value of the Bible, taken as a whole, is in its spiritual 
lessons. If it gave us the most unimpeachable history 
from beginning to end, if it portrayed all the future to 
us, and failed to inculcate spiritual lessons, it would be 
of the same value with any other book, of an unmoral 
sort. But its power, use, and worth lie altogether in 
its spiritual lessons. If these be conveyed in one form 
or another, it were well for us to perceive that the 
form of the conveyance is not of importance, and cer- 
tainly not to be regarded as at all essential to the va- 
lidity of the book as a divine revelation. 

Job is a work of fiction, and for certain purposes 
it is not inferior to any other part of the Old Testa- 
ment. If we get the lesson, or if we fail to get it, the 
imaginary Job is of quite as much service to us as if 
he were a veritable man among men. 


A work of fiction, as we have seen, is a literary 
expedient. If it comes in the form of poetry, that is 
one method; if in the form of a tragedy, that is an- 
other ; if in the form of a historical novel, that is 
simply another literary device. All these forms have 
long been used, and with great and good effect, and, as 
a rule, we know how to discriminate between the dif- 
ferent kinds of literary method. When we look into 
the Bible, we ought not to lose our literary judgment : 
we ought not to take for facts of history and biogra- 
phy the things which belong to literary device. 

This may be said to be true in respect to the book 
of Daniel, which occupies a place between the major 
and the minor prophets. It has proved, I will venture 
to assert, a far more readable part of the Bible than 
those portions which precede and succeed it. It is 
cast in an attractive form and conveys high lessons. 
The first portion of it, say the first six chapters, 
narrate the experiences of a Jew named Daniel in 
Babylon. He and three of his companions are chosen 
from the captive Jews to reside in the king's palace. 
These four are said to have been chosen because 
they were handsome men and expert in knowledge : 
they were scientific. They were to be taught all the 
learning of the Chaldeans. It is further said that 
Daniel, in particular, was skilled in dreams and vis- 
ions. As we progress in the story, we see Daniel 
becoming eminent above all his fellows. The nobles 
of the court are jealous of him, and enter into a con- 
spiracy to destroy him. He has a habit of opening 
his window toward Jerusalem, and praying to God 
three times a day. They make this a ground of com- 
plaint. They cause a law to be made by the king 
forbidding any person to make petition to any god 


or man except to the king. The conspirators get suf- 
ficient proof of the praying of Daniel, and present 
it to the king, who, for the sake of the law, orders 
the offender to be thrown to the lions. God closes 
the mouths of the lions, and Daniel is rescued. His 
three friends are put into a furnace because of their 
disobedience of the orders of the king : they receive 
no harm. Daniel interprets the dream of the king 
and the handwriting on the wall, while all the sooth- 
sayers and magiciaus of the city fail. It is natural 
that such a man should rise to great eminence, and 
certainly that he should have a commanding iafluence 
with his own countrymen. It is very natural that his 
contemporaries, and those who came after him, should 
mention him and his extraordinary deeds in their 
writings. Yet the great leaders of the restoration, 
and those who wrote the records of their nation, make 
no mention of this very eminent man. 

We are entirely sure that if any one should under- 
take to write the history of the United States from 
the beginning, he would not leave out of his books the 
story of Hamilton, nor that of General Grant. He 
would be less likely to do it, if he were a contempo- 
rary of either of these distinguished men. But the 
Jewish historians have not a word to say of this won- 
derful man, Daniel, who, according to the book which 
bears his name, was by far the greatest of the Jews 
at the time of the captivity. All the others sink into 
insignificance beside him, yet neither Ezra, to whom 
we are so greatly indebted for the Bible, nor Nehe- 
miah, nor Zechariah, makes any allusion to him. 
The prophet Ezekiel mentions his name, however. 

Ezekiel has a theory which differs from that of 
those who wrote the story of the destruction of Sodom. 


According to that story, if there had been a few good 
men in the city, Jehovah would have spared it. But 
Ezekiel declares that if the very best of men were in 
a wicked place, that city or place cannot escape de- 
struction. The good men can deliver their own souls 
only. This is the way the prophet puts the case : 
"Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, 
were in it (the place), they should deliver but their 
own souls, by their righteousness, saith the Lord 
God." The three men were therefore representatives 
of excellence. Of course it makes no difference 
whether they were real characters or the characters of 
fiction. Once again Ezekiel mentions Daniel, and in 
a way to indicate that such a character was somewhat 
familiar to the people of his time. He speaks of the 
king of Tyre as pluming himself upon his wisdom. 
He felt that he was as wise as Daniel and as capable 
of understanding the secrets of dreams, and the like. 

From these allusions, we find some reason to think 
Daniel is not simply a character of fiction. Perhaps 
we should come near the truth if we supposed him to 
be a real personage, who was made the hero, so to 
speak, of an historical fiction long afterward. We 
are by no means unfamiliar with that sort of literary 
device known as the historical novel. And we very 
clearly recognize the book of Job as belonging to that 
sort of writing, in a poetical form. 

There is great reason to suppose that the book of 
Daniel is a historical fiction in prose form. It is as- 
serted by some rather conservative writers that the 
majority of the leading Christian scholars of the pre- 
sent day hold that the book of Daniel was not written 
in the days of the exile, but about the middle of the 
second century B. c. There are many and sufficient 


reasons to adopt this view. It appears that the book 
of Daniel is one of the supplementary writings, not 
originally included in the Jewish collection of the pro- 
phets. Neither Daniel nor the book is mentioned by 
the Son of Sirach, who wrote about two hundred 
years B. c, and gave a catalogue of Jewish prophets 
and great men. Moreover, there are certain Persian 
words in the book as well as Greek names of musical 
instruments which were not in use at the time of the 

It is a reasonable supposition that some patriotic 
Jew during the Maccabean period — say about one 
hundred and fifty years before the Christian era — 
resorted to that sort of literary device later known 
as historical fiction, taking a real character as the 
basis of it, a man whose name was known to some, 
though certainly not to all the Jews, and that by this 
means he conveyed to the minds of his struggling 
countrymen the teachings of Jehovah, important for 
them at? that time. In order the better to effect his 
purpose, he introduces visions and interpretations, for 
the encouragement of his people in their great con- 
test for survival and liberty. 

Now among all the books of the Old Testament, 
that of Daniel is peculiar in that it seems to give mi- 
nute predictions concerning the future. It seems to 
lay out the plan for the succession of the great world- 
empires, as the Assyrian, the Medo-Persian, the Greek, 
and the Roman. As a matter of fact these four great 
kingdoms did succeed each other in the order indi- 
cated in the book of Daniel. 

It has been held to be one of the most convin- 
cing proofs of the infallible inspiration of the Bible, 
that a man was able to tell beforehand how kingdoms 


should rise and fall. In all the other prophetic books, 
the predictions, as we have seen, are of a general 
character, far more ethical than circumstantial, and 
resting upon the basis of profound principles. In 
Daniel, however, the predictions seem to have been 
literally fulfilled. If this book was written after the 
four great kingdoms had actually risen, then we have 
no difficulty in understanding how their succession 
could be described. There was no prediction about it. 
Edmund Burke wrote beforehand the coming French 
Revolution ; but that was prediction based upon prin- 
ciples of foresight understood by the author, j If some 
one in our own day were to write a historical novel, 
dating it from the day of Burke, and making it a 
story of Burke ; and if the writer of it were to tell 
all about the brilliant career of the first Napoleon, and 
the succession of Presidents of the United States, as 
having been foreseen by Burke, the device would be 
similar to that of the writer of the book of Daniel. 
No one would think of attributing dishonest .motives 
to the writer. It is as much a method of instruction 
and as legitimate as that employed in the literature 
of letter writing, or the literature of the drama (as 
in the book of Job), or the ordinary novel of the 
better class. 

The book of Daniel has been misunderstood, and 
made to teach an important error, because readers 
have mistaken the time and design of its composition. 
The nature of inspiration itself has suffered great mis- 
representation, partly because this particular book has 
not been recognized as a literary device ; but our Chris- 
tian scholars are helping us to rectify our errors in 
that respect by assigning to the book of Daniel a 
date long after the exile, and even after the rise of 
the Roman power. 


I know of no better way of showing the peculiar 
value and the commanding influence of the book of 
Daniel, its adaptation to the needs of the Maccabean 
times, than by a quotation from Ewald, cited by Dean 
Stanley in his " History of the Jewish Church," and by 
Dr. Gladden in " Who Wrote the Bible ? " describing 
the critical state of the Jews : " Everything had reached 
that state of extreme tension when the ancient religion 
upon its sacred soil must either disappear from view 
completely for long ages, or must rise in fresh strength 
and outward power against enemies thus immoderately 
embittered. It was at this crisis, in the sultry heat 
of an age thus frightfully oppressive, that this book 
appeared with its sword-edge utterance, its piercing 
exhortation to endure in face of the despot, and its 
promise full of divine joy, of near and full salvation. 
No dew of heaven could fall with more refreshing 
coolness on the parched ground, no spark from above 
alight with a more kindling power on the surface so 
long heated with a hidden glow. With winged brevity 
the book gives a complete survey of the kingdom of 
God upon earth, showing the relations which it had 
hitherto sustained in Israel to the successive great 
heathen empires of the Chaldeans, Medo - Persians, 
and Greeks, — in a word, to the heathenism which 
ruled the world. . . . Rarely does it happen that a 
book appears as this did, in the very crisis of the times 
and in a form most suited to such an age, artificially 
reserved, close and severe, and yet shedding so clear 
a light through obscurity, and so marvelously capti- 
vating. It was natural that it should soon achieve a 
success entirely corresponding to its inner truth and 

The book of Daniel in a peculiar degree sprang 


from the necessities of its time. It took the form 
that would produce the widest influence in the short- 
est time. It, more than any other portion of the Old 
Testament, is the prototype of the political and social 
fiction-literature of our own day. 



<. A considerable portion of the Old Testament 
is poetry. This is more notable because the New 
Testament contains little poetry except that which is 
quoted from the Old. In the Old Testament poetry 
abounds, not only in the specially poetical books, but 
also in the historical and prophetic books. One 
of the most accomplished and eminent of modern 
Hebrew scholars declares his conviction that the 
first chapter of the book of Genesis is poetical in 
form. Short poems are interspersed in the Penta- 
teuch. The book of Job, the Psalms, the Song of 
Solomon, are unmistakably poetical. The Proverbs, 
Ecclesiastes, and the Lamentations are also poetical, 
though in a slightly modified way. Perhaps one 
would be entitled to say that the prophecies them- 
selves are prose poems. Now the fact that so large a 
portion of the Old Testament is poetical ought to have 
weight in helping us to determine more accurately 
the nature of the volume as a whole. The oldest of 
the Greek writings are said to be poetical. We may 
go farther than that. There is a poetical flavor, if 
one may use the expression, in the orations and coun- 
cil talks of savage chiefs. 

In modern colloquial language we are about as far 
from poetical as possible. We have a plain, direct, 
and almost mathematical use of language. We ex- 


pect definite meanings in the papers we read and the 
talk we hear. If we do not get it we are dissatisfied. 
We have time for poetry only in our leisure hours. 
An attempt to express the difference between that 
direct and clear-cut method of speech to which we 
are driven more and more by the advance of science 
and the old poetical method might issue in something 
like this, namely : we express small and definite ideas 
in our prose, but poetry expresses great and indefi- 
nite ideas. Poetry is the tongue of the man whose 
thought is too great for any other sort of statement. ) 
Whenever we attribute to the poet the small and 
definite idea which belongs to another kind of speech 
we do him injustice, and inevitably fail of his mean- 

Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning see poten- 
tial greatness in small things. They help us to see 
the greatness, too, and rejoice in it. The unpoeti- 
cal soul sees great things only in bulk, or expressed 
force. Our poets do not measure with a tape line 
the dimensions of small things : they are not so defi- 
nite. They are impatient of the man who in the 
primrose sees nothing but the primrose. The ordi- 
nary man glances at the primrose and sees nothing 
but the definite form and color thereof. The man of 
science does much more than that. He pulls the 
plant of it out of the ground and carefully examines 
the root, the stalk, the leaves, the petals, and all the 
parts of it. That is his province. He may go even 
farther than that, and follow the particular plant 
down in the line of its origin. His field is a grand 
one ; compared with the ordinary man he perceives 
great thiugs in the flower. The poet, when he sits 
down before the flower, contemplates it ; and contem- 


plates infinitely more than it. That is his province. 
It is planted in a background of the infinities: it 
blossoms as a suggestion of God. He writes his 
couplet or verse or lofty poem about it. In prose lan- 
guage no man has ever been able to tell us all about 
such a thing as a primrose. There is no prose which 
will contain it : you cannot translate the thought into 
prose : if you try you lose the thought. 

Well, the great thoughts of Israel's great men have 
come to us in the poetical form. It may be said that 
all of the great thoughts have come in that guise. 
Little thoughts, such as the priests often had, — little 
notions of how to sacrifice to Jehovah, and how to£ 
make curtains and other things for a tabernacle, or 
how to make clothes for priests, — really fail to inter- 
est any one. The man of the smallest soul can get no 
comfort out of those portions of the Scriptures which 
contain the priests' trifles, unless he first tries to swell 
the trifles to something of proportion by putting into 
them a prophecy or symbol of the sublime sacrifice 
of the Man of later Scriptures. They are definite 
enough, those ancient trifles, — as definite as a trea- 
tise on housekeeping : but they fly away from us like 
the chaff. 

The real power of the Old Testament is in its po- 
etry. It constitutes the kind of food which makes 
the soul great. It pushes us out of our pettiness ; it 
furnishes a balm for our heavy sorrows ; it gives us 
visions ; helps us to contemplate, and takes us out of 
the range of the little and the fugitive. Poetry, there- 
fore, is peculiarly the language of religion. For reli- 
gion is no hard and fast and dry philosophy. It is 
the realm of the feelings. Its office is to develop in 
us great and true emotions, and it may truly be said 


that we gain our greatest feelings by the help of Is- 
rael's poetry. Therefore when we come to the poetry 
of the Bible we come nearer to God than in history 
or story or ethical teachings. As we grow able to 
look in upon the inner meanings of that poetry, the 
veil of the temple is rent for us, and we gaze upon 
the Most Holy place. 

The truth of poetry is suggested rather than di- 
rectly expressed, and therefore the poet does not care 
for the small and definite truth which he seems to be 
putting into words, except so far as it may serve his 
purpose in suggesting the great and the indefinite 
truth. In the use of the poet the incongruous, the 
extravagant, and the impossible are not rejected. 
The flood of his feelings knows no bounds. If any 
one looked up'on a vast mountain raising its white 
spire into the clouds, he would think of that as an im- 
movable mass. Whatever else might move, that would 
remain and be everlasting ; but if the poet were upon 
another strain, and were thinking of the presence of 
God, the everlasting hills would cease to be everlast- 

One of the hymns of Israel expresses the fervid 
feeling of the poet, who sees the mountains skipping 
like rams, and the little hills like lambs. The sea 
also beholds something and flees away. The river 
stops its flowing. What produces all these wonderful 
effects ? The presence of the God of Jacob, leading 
his chosen people out of bondage. God comes out 
of his secret place and visits his people, after long 
absence, and all things witness this awful presence, 
— the mountains, the sea, the river : the earth itself 
trembles. This is the poet's feeling of the sublim- 
ity of that presence, and it is graphically portrayed, -V 


After we have learned the poet's method we do not 
speak of the drapery as if it consisted of actual phe- 
nomena in nature. We do not think that the sea 
fled away, nor that the river stopped its flow, nor that 
the mountains skipped. A great many people have 
thought so, and out of poetry have made history. 
But when out of poetry you make history, you destroy 
the poetry and lose the element of religion it contains. 
The poet always was extravagant, seemingly. To him, 
in his vision, the earth trembles at the presence of 
God, and the mountains skip ; the sea is driven back ; 
the river stops flowing. Everything goes out of its 
course to honor or testify to God. So stood the sun 
still on the plains of Gibeon, while the leader of God's 
people sought help from on high ; but it was in the 
vision, and not in fact, it stood still. 

The principal poetry of the Jews seems to have been 
gathered from many sources, and into a number of 
hymn-books. That portion of the poetry which could 
be used in worship, could be sung or chanted, seems 
to have made a hymn collection. That many of 
the Psalms were so employed appears very natural. 
There are many things which go to show that the 
hymns were prepared for chanting. Musical signs 
were interspersed here and there. The word " Se- 
lah," which I suppose used to seem one of the myste- 
ries of Providence, and insoluble at that, is found to 
indicate simply a pause. And just as we have marks 
in our staff, — above it, generally, — such as/*, or^. to 
signify that the passage is to be rendered strongly or 
very strongly, or piano or pianissimo to indicate soft- 
ness, so this hymn poetry of the Jews had its marks. 1 
There were time-marks and marks of expression, and 

1 See Dr. Gladden's Who Wrote the Bible f chap, vii., for more 
complete explanation. 


indications of the kind of instrument to be employed 
for accompaniment, and all the like, in the Psalms. 
One easily forgets the names of these various marks, 
which I suppose every Hebrew student who becomes 
proficient in the Psalms commits to memory. But 
these indicate that when we read the Psalms we are 
reading from the Jewish hymn-books. They had five or 
six of these books, which were finally gathered into one. 
Many of the hymns have been credited to David, 
some to Moses, some to Solomon, and others to vari- 
ous authors ; but our modern scholars find it difficult 
to believe that David wrote any of the Psalms. The 
compilers of the hymn-books attributed some of the 
songs to David, and they all came to be known in a 
general way as " the Psalms of David." There is suf- 
ficient evidence that they belong to a later time ; but 
with the question of authorship we are not now con- 
cerned. At present we will consider the widely variant 
conceptions of God which these hymns testify to. 

In modern times it seems desirable to have hymn- 
books which express the ideas of our own particular 
church or sect. There are some hymns so good and so 
comprehensive that almost any sect would put them in 
their book, but on the whole it is desirable, as it ap- 
pears, for our Roman brethren to have their Roman 
book ; for our Episcopal brethren theirs ; for the 
Presbyterian and Baptist and Methodist and Univer- 
salist and Unitarian brethren their own peculiar hymn- 
books. One does not really enjoy singing bad doctrines, 
— that is, if he cares for doctrines at all. He would 
prefer to sing out of the book which his sect approves 
and publishes. \ Some hymn-books, adapted to periods 
of unusual religious excitement, are employed by all 
the sects which resort to revivals ; but they are used, 


of course, by most intelligent people with more or less 
mental reservation. 

The Jews, however, were very comprehensive in 
their hospitality to hymns. Their sentiments seem 
not to have crystallized into doctrines. Least of all 
were they able to express doctrines in hymns. A 
dogma in a hymn is a little like a wild beast in a col- 
lection of chinaware, very destructive of the beauty of 
the poetry. The Jews welcomed to their hymn-books 
religious sentiment, — particularly that of the patri- 
otic order. Whatever the doctrinal drift of a senti- 
ment might be, if it appealed to the feelings, or some 
of the feelings, it could have a place. For have we 
not many sorts of feelings ? — those of joy, and of 
sorrow, of peace and of anger, of exultation and of 
contrition ; and having all these, shall we not give 
them their best expression in our religion? Israel 
did not tell us so much about God as about its various 
feelings concerning God, in these hymns. That is 
what we want to know. We must have our own feel- 
ings about God, and others can help us ; but God 
giveth such knowledge of himself as is fit, to each 
teachable spirit. One poet looked upon Jehovah in 
one way, another in another way. Each went accord- 
ing to his gift or light. Our modern hymns are usu- 
ally poor and feeble compared with the songs of 
Israel. It has been said that the Psalms strike every 
chord of human feeling, and these chords are struck 
strongly. There were two things which did not ham- 
per the poet of Israel : the one was doctrine and the 
other was rhyme. He concerned himself with neither, 
but did concern himself to speak strongly his feeling 
or his inward conviction. His poetry was of the kind 
Wordsworth called " inevitable." 



In modern hymn-books are usually at least some bad 
hymns, — bad because they are neither poetry nor 
truth. The hymns are not all upon an equality. We 
do not begin at the beginning of a hymn-book and 
sing all the hymns through seriatim. There are a 
few which tower above all others. It is precisely so 
with all the Jewish hymn-books. There are some which 
help us more, or inspire us more deeply than we can 
tell. There are others which help us no whit. There 
are some which appeal to the feelings we ought to strug- 
gle against with all our might. In one of the hymns 
Jehovah is spoken of as the God of revenges, but in 
another as the shepherd of men. Then the pathos of 
contrition and humility is mingled in some hymns 
with thirst for the confusion and destruction of one's 

There is a blemish in many of the hymns of praise. 
It is the blemish which rises from the fact that Israel 
was long a military people. No nation can be military 
in its enterprise except it be to some extent moved by 
the feeling of hatredjof its enemies. /And so bitter 
was the hatred of Israel in the earlier part of its career 
that it pursued some of its wars to the extent of ex- 
terminating those who opposed. There is no question 
of the bravery of that peculiar people. They bore the 
onset of the greatest of the military powers of the 
world. The hosts of Assyria pressed upon them with- 
out conquering their indomitable spirit. There was no 
extreme sacrifice of which they were not capable. No- 
thing more truly heroic stands in the annals of history 
than the intrepidity and unflinching courage of the 
small bands of Judah, in Maccabean times, withstand- 
ing the armies before which the very earth trembled. 
For such a people to be without martial hymns would 


be an impossibility. Their God was the God of war, 
the Lord of hosts. Their Jehovah was the great con- 
queror of enemies. It is the more surprising, there- 
fore, that many of their hymns breathe the spirit of 
peace and of humanity. It is surprising that any 
could be found to believe that the earth is Jehovah's, 
and the fullness thereof; that the sweeter elements 
which belong to a later time should have found ex- 
pression in the days of the struggle toward the sover- 
eignty of the world. The better feeling mingles closely 
with the worse. Jehovah is spoken of as the God of 
salvation, but God shall crush the head of his ene- 
mies. God says that he will again bring his people 
out of Bashan, that " thy foot may be dipped in blood, 
and the tongue of thy dogs stained with the blood of 
thine enemies." And yet in the same hymn is the 
prayer that Jehovah will scatter those who desire 

We are therefore driven to choose out of the hymns 
of Israel the best and fittest for our help. ' v Some of 
the sentiments we must resolutely reject^ We are 
compelled to resort to the sifting process ; and so all 
people practically do. Those who would be horrified 
at the thought of omitting any portion from the sacred 
canon do, for their own private behoof, and for the 
development in themselves of comfort, hope, and 
trust, select those things which help them the most, 
and read only with reluctance the other things. 
Doubtless the hymn-books of the Jews were made 
very much as ours were made, but with a difference. 
We have our Watts and Cowper and the Wesleys. 
(We have the modern hymn-book poetry, which is in- 
tensely dogmatic, and therefore far from religious. 
(We make our sectarian books. It may almost be said 


that we try to sing baptism by immersion, and bap- 
tism by sprinkling. We try to sing the decisions of 
the Council of Nica^a and the Council of Trent.") We 
have tried to sing the dogmas of the priests about 
sacrifices. We have sung, too, about probation and 
the definite end of it. And in all such ways we have 
fallen far below the standard of Israel. Their hymns 
were large hymns of praise to Jehovah. Whether 
Jehovah were to be regarded as the God of revenges, 
or the shepherd, there were the ever applicable feelings 
of praise. " I will praise the name of my God with 
a song, I will magnify him with praise. And this 
shall please God more than a young calf having horns 
and hoofs." Our comparatively few hymns of praise 
are those which vibrate in our souls after the music 
ceases without. 

There is a still higher merit in Israel's hymns. The 
poet has been said to be the one who sets us free. 
Perhaps it would be better to say that he is the one 
who can set free from its latency in our own breast 
the truth which uplifts us, and makes us see God. 
To have that truth born into the world, and declare 
itself, is the greatest blessing we can have. And 
there is nothing which so declares our inward and 
latent truth, the truth which connects us with God, 
and makes us now and then conscious of his presence, 
as the greatest of Israel's hymns. I think I speak 
advisedly in this. Back in the pre-Christian times 
there was some great soul of the Jews, a sort of Schlik 
ermacher, or Spinoza, or Goethe, who knew how to 
free our deepest consciousness of its truth, and bring 
it out into song. The highest and grandest philos- 
ophy accords with the highest and grandest poetry. 
Disraeli called the poets the unacknowledged legis- 


lators of the world. So far as the poetry of the 
Bible is concerned, the poets have helped many to 
walk in ways of pain and struggle victoriously. 

If you are consumed by anxiety, and fretting your- 
self about the result of your endeavors, it is the divine 
poet who tells you to rest in Jehovah, and wait pa- 
tiently for him. If you feel that your efforts will be 
misunderstood, and that evil motives will be attributed 
to you, the poet soothes your heart, and bids you com- 
mit your way to Jehovah, " and he shall bring forth 
thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as 
the noonday." If you feel that there is a hazard in 
your steps, and you do not know where they will end, 
although you take them for righteousness' sake, the 
poet tells you that the steps of the good man are 
ordered by Jehovah, and that Jehovah delighteth in 
his way; that if he falls he shall be uplifted, be- 
cause Jehovah upholdeth with his hand. If one feels 
lonely and forsaken, and as if all were against him, 
the poet tells him : "I have been young and am old, 
yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his 
seed begging bread." 

These and many other things the inspired poet tells 
us, not because he is an authorized person and can 
speak ex cathedra, but because he sees these things to 
be true, and we can also see them to be true, without 
any proof whatever. In the Psalms we find that high- 
est authority which consists in revealing our own deep- 
est things unto ourselves. We do not ask who wrote 
a hymn before we are ready to sing it. (But if the 
music of truth is in it, and we have an ear for such 
music, then we sing it as from heaven. It is a song 
of Zion to us. 

The Jews were solicitous for the authority of great 


names, and yet their best hymns are anonymous. 
In science a great name has deserved weight. We 
cannot examine the facts of nature in any large ex- 
tent; we have neither the skill nor the time to do it. 
There is, therefore, a good reason why we should go 
to our great lights of science to find out about nature. 
It is so in civil law, it is so in medicine, it is so in 
many of the departments of our activity; but so is 
it not in religion. A mother does not go and ask the 
authorities about love to discover whether or no she 
loves her babe. No man goes to a philosopher to 
discover about the presence of God. Yet if it has 
come about in the experience of mothers that some 
one has been able to give the best voice to the mother- 
love, then all true mothers delight in that voice. The 
speaker may be unknown, but the revelation is there. 
If it has transpired in the experience of any one 
that God is present with him, besetting him behind 
and before, that will make a revelation of our before 
latent truth, and that is the kind of authority the 
Psalms notably have. They expose to us, as almost 
nothing else does, the things of God latent within 
ourselves. The moral philosopher can help us some- 
what ; the scribe somewhat ; but, most of all, God's 
poet blesses us with the blessing of opening to us the 
primal truths. 

A hymn would be written by some person among 
the Jews, and would be set to such music as they then 
had ; would be gathered later into some collection, to 
be used in their temple service. This collection would 
afterward be followed by another. There would be 
long hymns and short ones. In some, the history 
would be set forth ; in others, there would be little 
but praise of Jehovah for his wonderful works to the 


children of men. In a few there would breathe the 
spirit of malediction. (If religious men had chosen 
only the good hymns of Israel, and had blotted out 
of their remembrance the bad hymns, bloodshed and 
cruelty would have been less in the world's history 
than they have been. If religious men had taken for 
divine that which inspired their own souls to the best 
feelings, the Christian church would not have stained 
itself with the blood of countless martyrs./ Thus by 
the history of Christendom God hath taught us that 
it is our duty, as well as our privilege, to make choice 
of the good and reject the evil, in everything fur- 
nished by human experienced) 



According to the popular notion, derived mostly 
from the numbers of years marked on the margins of 
the English Bibles, a blank in the history of Israel oc- 
curs between the last of the prophets and the birth of 
Jesus Christ, — a blank of about four hundred years. 
This period apparently leaves no record of itself in 
the Bible, and therefore must seem unimportant. So 
that, whereas there are very clear and definite ideas 
about the earliest days of Hebrew history, and even 
of the time preceding Hebrew history, the last five 
hundred years of that history have received almost no 
attention from common readers of the Bible. 

Recent critical studies of the Bible have gone far 
to modify this popular notion. In fact, one cannot 
give attention to the subject without finding that the 
popular notion is the reverse of the truth. Of the 
actual early history of the Hebrews we have very 
slight knowledge, and there is little prospect of an 
increase of it ; and the importance of it from a his- 
torical standpoint is quite secondary. By far the 
most interesting and important part of Jewish history 
is in the blank space supposed to be left by the Bible. 

During a period of about one hundred and seventy- 
five years, beginning with the last of the eleventh 
century of the Christian era, eight crusades took 
place. These were hysterical movements of Western 


Europeans upon the Holy Land. (Good results, how- 
ever, often flow from misfortunes.) From that pecu- 
liar insanity of superstition which took the form of 
the crusade arose this chief result, namely, a better 
acquaintance of the people of Western Europe with 
two civilizations more advanced than their own, — the 
Greek and the Saracenic. Thus a powerful impulse 
was given both to the literature and the commerce of 

The exile of the Jews from their land gave them a 
great and new impulse in several ways. They were 
brought into contact with civilizations and religions in 
some respects superior to their own. It is true they 
lost their political independence, and that was a great 
trial to them, but they gained far more than they lost. 
They added largely to their before small stock of reli- 
gious ideas. It is possible to represent the changes they 
underwent only in the most general way, and as highly 
probable rather than entirely certain. Before the exile 
they had been like children. Their national god was 
for the most part one among many such gods, and 
their practices were largely such as prevailed else- 
where. There was one element of superiority which 
we may declare became the seed of future greatness. 
They gradually came to some ideas of right. And 
while they were struggling to reach these ideas clearly, 
they passed through much confusion, (jhey attributed 
good to Jehovah, but also evil.j We hear the later 
Isaiah saying for Jehovah : "^T form the light and 
create darkness ; I make peace and create evil : I, Je- 
hovah, do all these things."} This is an echo from one 
of the earliest of the prophets, Amos, who cries, 
4 \Shall there be evil in a city and Jehovah hath not 
done it t\" It was natural that they should attribute 


evil to their god. Many even to-day are unable to 
extricate themselves from the dilemma which con- 
fronted them. 

In this as in other respects there came a change, 
and this change was wrought by new ideas which came 
to them from the Persians and Chaldeans. They were 
separated from their place of worship, Jerusalem. 
Their temple had been destroyed, and its service had 
ceased ; and under such circumstances it was inevi- 
table that their feelings and reasonings should change. 
Jehovah grew greater to them. They came to think of 
him as the only God. This was all providential. Af- 
ter one has come to think of God as some of the Jews 
did, there is no lack of providence, but gradually God's 
providence fills everything. The Jews found that there 
was only one God, and that he was a far greater and 
higher being than their fathers had imagined. But 
as these feelings increased they found God, their na- 
tional God, withdrawing from them. He seemed to 
be farther away because he was greater. 

So grew up the idea of God's transcendence. He 
was the ruler of all. He was the creator of all. The 
heavens were the work of his hands, as well as the 
earth. Accordingly we behold in the time succeeding 
the exile a distinct doctrine of angels. To be sure, 
angels had been thought of before, but what they were 
no one seemed able to imagine. They might be like 
the winds and the fires. After their contact with the 
Persians angels, which are like men and have human 
names, are spoken of. The angels were now more 
necessary to their religious philosophy than they had 
been before. Because if God were so high above all 
things, if God were resident, so to speak, in a lofty 
transcendency, it would be necessary for him to have 


beings of inferior rank to do his bidding and carry on 
his affairs. The Persians contributed angels to the 
Jews when the new necessities of their religion called 
for angels. There was a distinct necessity for them, 
because God was no longer a dweller on earth, but 
far away. God was therefore not alone in heaven, but 
was surrounded by an heavenly host of swift and pow- 
erful beings, by whom he procured his will to be done. 

(This enlargement of their theology helped them 
also in other ways ; they were no longer compelled to 
think of God as the author of evil. While God had 
been receding from them, the ground of their confi- 
dence in him had been growing firmer. He was right- 
eous, and could now always be righteous. If there 
was evil in the city, it was not necessary to think that 
Jehovah did it. It was not necessary to think that 
God was darkness as well as light.) For the inferior 
beings, sometimes called the sons of God, were capa- 
ble of both good and evil. Some of them were reck- 
oned to be good angels. And instead of having a god 
for each nation, it might at least be conceived that 
there was for each nation a guardian angel. In the time 
of great distress and danger, there was comfort in feel- 
ing that a mighty angel was guarding the destinies of 
the people. If there were hosts on the earth in battle 
array, it was conceived that there were also hosts on 
high, also in battle array. The good and the evil 
were fighting there, as good and evil nations were 
fighting here. These beings of the other and higher 
order were therefore good and. bad. They were re- 
spectively instigating their peoples to good and evil. 

At the present time the angels are fading away 
again. It is because of still greater conceptions of 
God that arise ; but at that time the introduction of 


angels marks a distinct advance and improvement of 
the religion of Israel. 

It is impossible to do more than touch upon the na- 
ture of the Chaldean and Persian influence upon the 
Jews. But, to those who carefully study in the light 
of modern methods, there can be no doubt of the im- 
portance of this influence, and at the very time when 
it was received. 

In that blank space between the last of the prophets 
and the birth of Christ, the principal preparation was 
made for the introduction of the greater religion. We 
are perhaps unable to strictly identify all or many of 
the influences, but the principal ones are plain. And 
one of the principal of these moulding influences arose 
from the association of Jews with Greeks. The out- 
line of the history is somewhat as follows : A certain 
portion of the Jews had returned to Palestine during 
the reign of Cyrus, and under his protection. After 
the time of Cyrus his successors had made the most 
strenuous effort to conquer the Greeks, but the ser- 
vile forces of the Oriental monarch found themselves 
unable to cope with the free Greeks. They met dis- 
astrous defeat at Marathon, about 490 B. c, and at 
Thermopylae ten years later. The states or cities of 
the Greek peninsula were torn by jealousies, and by 
reason of their dissensions were fast becoming unable 
to carry on their warfare, until they were united under 
Philip of Macedon. As the Persian ambition had been 
to possess the Greek territory, now the ambition of 
Philip was to conquer Persia on its own soil. This 
design of his was carried out by Alexander, who, in a 
brief but brilliant career, became the master of the 
world. Palestine became incorporated in the new uni- 
versal empire about 330 B. c. 


In the course of a century, there came to be Greek 
communities in Palestine. A large number of Jews 
went to the new and great city founded in honor of 
Alexander, and called after him. It is very evident 
that the Jews were now brought under an influence 
which was to have a profound effect upon their feel- 
ings and religion, as well as the religions which should 
afterward grow out of theirs. 

Without entering upon any examination of the pe- 
culiar history of the period, which was one of great 
trial to the faithful Jews, suffice it to say that they 
were being broadened, or, as we say, liberalized, by 
contact with the people who at that time excelled not 
only in arms, but in the arts and philosophy and polite 
learning. It is impossible for a people who have any 
quickness of apprehension, no matter what strength of 
conservatism is theirs, to escape the influence of such 
a contact. The Greeks were not haughty and tyranni- 
cal, but met them upon grounds of a fellowship which 
their liberal religious ideas did not forbid. The effect 
of such influence is seen in a book written about the 
close of the third century B. C, and which was attri- 
buted by its author, according to a literary device of 
the Jews, to Solomon. In reality this remarkable 
book does not reflect the times of Solomon, but the 
times of the Greek dominion. The book of Ecclesi- 
astes is lacking in the religious fervor of earlier and 
greater books, and there is apparent in it, as most 
readers have seen, a skepticism which shows that the 
Greek contact had brought sadness and that shadow 
which is always cast by materialism. The writer is 
wearied with the repetitions of nature. The sun riseth 
and goeth to his place. The wind goeth toward the 
south and turneth about unto the north ; it whirleth 


about continually. The rivers run into the sea. All 
things are full of labor ; man cannot utter it. This 
unutterable sameness of things, and of life, and of la- 
bor ; this everlasting flight of vanity upon an aimless 
mission ; the very effort to find out the meaning of all 
these things, — it is all a vexation of spirit. 

The writer of this belonged, of course, to the wealthy 
class. He had the time and opportunity to devote 
himself to philosophy. He gave his heart to know 
wisdom, and acquired, as he tells us, a great experience 
above all other men, but he found only grief. 

The position of his nation, as conquered, was an 
affliction to him ; but that does not account for the 
dismal view he takes of all things. For he does not 
limit his view to his own nation ; he takes a keen 
glance at everything that is done under the sun. And 
whether it is here or there, it all amounts to the same 
thing. It is all vanity, and such a realm of vanity 
is more painful to contemplate than a realm of sorrow 
itself. He does not know how to account for it. He 
does not know how it can be that there is a God who 
is mighty and good, and at the same time such a world 
as this. He has lost the faith of his predecessors. 
Not their faith in the existence of God, but their sense 
of God's presence. God no longer has anything to do 
on the earth. 

It is a curious fact, and worthy of our notice, that 
he does not seem any longer to care for the Jehovah 
of the Jews. He never once mentions his name, which 
was held in such profound reverence. He does not 
think of Israel as a peculiar people of Jehovah, there- 
fore. The Persian influence has already had its effect, 
and God has gone off farther and farther into the 
abysses. " Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not 


thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God ; for 
God is in heaven and thou upon earth, therefore let 
thy words be few.^ ; Possibly, if this were to be trans- 
lated into the plainest of our speech, it would be found 
to be advice not to address words to God, or petitions 
or praises. God is in heaven and man is on earth, 
and there is no communication between the two. 

It must not be supposed that the religion of the Jews 
is forgotten by this man, nor that he has become athe- 
istic. And there is another thing which ought to be 
noted, — his belief in the goodness or righteousness of 
God. He taught that only by obedience to the com- 
mandments of God can we expect happiness. He has 
lost the enthusiasm, the spirit of trust, the heart of 
love for God. The truth he sees is like the light of 
a most wintry sun : it does not warm his soul. It is 
entirely possible he was acquainted with the doctrine 
of immortality. In then recent times it had been em- 
braced, but he did not find himself able to believe it. 
He, indeed, finds that the same event happens to all, 
both good and bad. " As is the good, so is the sin- 
ner. ... To him that is joined to all the living, there 
is hope ; for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 
For the living know that they shall die, but the dead 
know not anything, neither have they any more a re- 
ward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also th'eir 
love, and their hatred, and their envy is now perished; 
neither have they any more a portion forever in any- 
thing that is done under the sun." If there is any- 
where a more distinct disclaimer of immortality than 
that, it would be difficult to find it. And yet the man 
believes in that distant God, that awful Power, resident 
in the distances. He believes, too, in goodness to a 
moderate extent. For, in spite of his rash generaliza- 


tion of all things under the head of vanity, he is still 
almost always moderate. This moderation displays 
itself in the advice he gives to men. Because there is 
nothing after death, therefore, he says, " Enjoy your 
life. Eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with 
a merry heart. . . . Live joyfully with the wife whom 
thou lovest all the days of thy vanity, which he hath 
given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity ; 
for that is thy portion in life. Whatsoever thy hand 
findeth to do, do it with thy might ; for there is no 
work nor device, nor knowledge nor wisdom, in Sheol, 
whither thou goest." The best thing he can think 
of is the long extension of life. But he has observed 
that sometimes the righteous man perishes, and the 
wicked man prolongs his days. His advice therefore 
is, " Be not righteous overmuch ; neither make thy- 
self overwise ; why shouldest thou destroy thyself ? 
Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish ; why 
shouldest thou die before thy time?" Some have 
spoken of the writer of all this as a worn-out voluptu- 
ary ; a man who had tried everything of the delights 
of the flesh, and had found himself disappointed, as all 
such do. But does he not rather appear to be a man 
of extreme moderation ? He has lost the enthusiasm 
and fervor of the Jewish religion, and had contracted 
the Greek flavor. It was perhaps inevitable, but it 
was in the last degree mournful. This shows us how 
the notion of the transcendence of God, his work 
through angels and secondary causes, is likely to sap 
the enthusiasm and fervor of religion if it develop far 

The Greek influence, however, is not all expressed, 
it merely finds over-expression, in this book of Ecclesi- 
astes. We may well suppose that, while all the Jews 


responded to Greek influence, not all, and not a con- 
siderable portion of them, went the lengths of the au- 
thor of this book. Indeed, the Greek influence itself 
is hard to understand, if we do not find more in it than 
the moderation of this preacher. There had been a 
great history across the western sea. The statesmen 
and scholars and poets had been those whose memory 
the world has delighted to honor, but these great men 
had all departed. Five centuries before the begin- 
ning of the Christian era the greatest of the Greeks 
had died, sacrificing himself to the welfare of the 

The Greeks had their priests, as had the Jews, but 
they also had enjoyed the advantage of one great pro- 
phet, — doubtless of more than one ; but the one is 
known to all men. ^Socrates had been as conscious of 
a divine call and mission as any of the Jewish pro- 
phets had been. He had devoted himself to that mis- 
sion with a fidelity sealed at last with his blood. 
Among those born of women hath not arisen a greater 
than Socrates, with one exception^ The mission of 
Socrates, as well as of his predecessors, and that great 
successor JPlato 3 to whom the world is so vastly in debt, 
could not have been lost as the centuries rolled on. 
To every great river, as it flows toward the sea, there 
are tributaries ; and that great river of religion, which 
took the name of Christianity nineteen centuries ago, 
did not then spring in full flood out of the ground. 
The same river had been coming down through eras 
of human experience, but this experience was not lim- 
ited to the one nation. Or, if we suppose that to 
Israel belongs the honor of the name of that religion, 
there were other streams which contributed their sup- 
ply, at fit places in the progress. Israel, with its dis- 


tinguishing idea of righteousness, was cast adrift from 
its old belongings, that it might share the riches of the 
heathen. It was sent into exile, both for its own good 
and the good of the world, and for the welfare of un- 
born generations. It was cast in contact with the 
Persians, to learn of these followers of the ancient and 
refined religion of Zoroaster what they could teach. 
It was thrown afterward with those who had felt the 
influence of Greek thought, then and long the most 
subtle, the most liberal, the most enlightened in the 

It would be possible, had one the knowledge and the 
delicacy of perception, to trace these four great con- 
tributing influences in the mind of the writer of the 
book of Ecclesiastes. The fervor of the Hebrew is 
toned down by the moderation of the Stoic. The idea 
of righteousness inherited from the Hebrews is chilled 
by the feeling of the distance of God in the heavens ; 
or by the loss of Jehovah, the national and present 
deity. The skepticism of the later Greeks thus makes 
its appearance as upon the surface, to be the chief 
feature of the book. All this, nevertheless, contri- 
butes to the revelation of God to man. It all prepares 
the way for the fuller revelation. 

In our own time we hear, as it were, an echo of some 
of the words of Ecclesiastes. We are exhorted by a 
persuasive and eloquent orator of our own country not 
to be overmuch righteous ; to enjoy life while we 
may. But our orator does not go quite so far as the 
author of Ecclesiastes. Of a life beyond the grave 
he does not profess to know anything; but he would 
not darken the star of hope which may cheer any 
soul. The author of Ecclesiastes is persuaded in his 
own mind that there is no work, nor device, nor con- 


sciousness, in Sheol, whither we are all going. He 
may have darkened the star of hope in many breasts. 
Yet there is in all such philosophy somewhat of pre- 
paration for the coming better religion. The Jewish 
authorities did not reject such writings from their 
canon, because such writings as the book of Ecclesias- 
tes contain somewhat of the increasing revelation. 
It does not satisfy us : neither do any of the things 
preparatory to Christianity satisfy us wholly. 

There is a value in such a book as that of Eccle- 
siastes, however, which is not lessened by its defects. 
Together with the book of Jonah, and others which 
express wide sympathies, it helps prepare the way for 
the universal religion. When we reach the beginning 
of the universal religion, the religion not of the Jew, 
nor of the Greek, nor of the barbarian, but of man- 
kind, we hear no longer the name, Jehovah. If we 
find fault with the omission of this revered name from 
the book of Ecclesiastes, what shall we say of the 
bringer-in of the new covenant, to whom the word is 
simply a word of the past ? — who dares to replace all 
the names of the past by the term of tender and close 
relation, Father ? Surely the skepticism of this Jew two 
hundred years before Christ, the sad pessimism of this 
book, and the development of an all-doubting spirit 
were not wasted if they helped to broaden the way for 
the blessing of mankind by a religion which should 
root itself in that which had come from all nations. 
vJPaul acknowledges that he is debtor to both Jews and 
Greeks ; so are we all, and to more than Jews and 
Greeks, — to those who held partial truths ; to those 
who held errors ; to those who doubted the future, as 
well as to those who expected the future life. 

It may be well to open our eyes to the fact that our 


Bible is not the product of Jewish thought alone. As 
its mission is to bless all nations, so it has been made 
by all nations. God is not alone the God of the Jew, 
but also of the Gentile. 

In that period which has been regarded as blank, 
between the last of the prophets and Christ, scholars 
of religion are showing us the preparations of divine 
Providence for the breaking down of the walls of par- 
tition. In the light of their discoveries we may see the 
Jew bringing to us his sheaves, and the Persian bring- 
ing his sheaves, and the Greek his. And the end is 
not yet. There rises in the West a people before whom 
the earth is destined to tremble as it has never trem- 
bled before ; the people before whom the conquering 
Greek and the already subject Jew must learn to bow. 
The last of the world empires is to arise before the 
coming of the world's true king. The Greek is to be 
supplanted by the Roman. 



The extent and permanence of the Greek influ- 
ence over the Jews are best shown by the fact that 
the Greek language, with some local modification, 
was adopted by the Hebrew people ; and in process 
of time the Hebrew Scriptures, which were begun at 
the time of the exile, and brought later to a sort of 
completion, were translated into Greek. The Greek 
Scriptures came to be of such general use among the 
people, not only of Egypt and Alexandria, but of 
Palestine as well, that a large proportion of the quo- 
tations in the New Testament from the Old are from 
the Greek instead of the Hebrew Bible. 

Greek customs and Greek thoughts found their way 
into Hebrew usage and minds, and the old walls of 
separation between the Jew and the rest of the world 
began to be undermined. The Jews, as a separate 
people, under the auspices of Jehovah, had almost 
accomplished their mission. As we speculate, we find 
it possible, perhaps probable, that if the history 
of the Jews could have been long continued under 
the influence of the Greeks, there would have en- 
sued such a mingling of the better elements of both 
kinds of religion and philosophy as would have left 
the Jewish religion much less distinct than it really 

Comparative quiet had the Jews during the rule, 


first of the Persians, and then of the Greeks. And 
quiet times are favorable for easy and natural assimi- 
lation. The old dream of the Jews, that they were 
the peculiar people of God, destined always to remain 
peculiar until they should arrive at the control of all 
nations, was already subsiding. They were learning 
the arts and sciences of the Greeks, as well as adopt- 
ing their language. 

A certain king, who seems to have been insane 
with ambition, and who desired above all things to 
make a brilliant career, took occasion to violently in- 
terfere with the religious rites of the Jews, and even 
went so far as to issue a command that they should 
worship the gods of Greece alone. The temple on 
Mt. Gerizim was dedicated to Jupiter, while, upon 
the high altar of the temple at Jerusalem, swine's 
flesh was offered in sacrifice, and broth of swine's 
flesh was sprinkled in the holy place, and over the 
sacred utensils. 

No such successful mode could have been devised 
to stop the liberalizing process which was gradually 
leavening the religion of the Jews. They were, of 
course, aroused to resist these blasphemous proceed- 
ings, and the religious sentiment was revived in great 
power. They became Jews again, and were prepared 
to stand stoutly for the ancestral religion, which 
was almost departing from them. The observance of 
the Sabbath was forbidden and synagogues were de- 
stroyed. Antiochus could have taken no course so 
sure to defeat his ends as this. Yet by taking this 
course he performed a great service for the world to 
come, because he prevented the loss of the root of a 
true religion, the religion of the prophets and psalm- 
ists, — the religion which was founded to bless the 


world, and out of which should grow the Christian 
development. \ 

One of the measures of repression resorted to by 
Antioehus the Brilliant was to order the delivery to 
his officers of all copies of the law to be burned. If 
any failed to obey, they were to be slain. The satel- 
lites of the king went prowling up and down the 
kingdom, violently destroying the remnants of the old 
religion. To meet such atrocity, the spirit of the peo- 
ple was at length aroused. A considerable proportion 
of them submitted and became idolaters, but there 
was a remnant in whom the spirit of the prophets 
slumbered, in whose breast it was reawakened. The 
agents of the king, in carrying out their plan, came to 
a small town, between Jerusalem and Joppa, where 
dwelt a distinguished priest named Matthias, who was 
the father of five sons. This man was commanded to 
offer sacrifice upon an altar erected by the agents of 
the king, but he flatly refused to do it. Upon his 
refusal, there advanced from the crowd one of those 
pliant men of the Jews who were always ready to 
make favor with the party in power, and he proceeded 
to offer the sacrifices. Matthias, the aged priest, 
would not bear that, and promptly killed the man. 
The officers of Antioehus were killed, the altar de- 
stroyed, and Matthias called to him all who were zeal- 
ous for the law. These escaped into the wilderness, 
were pursued and attacked, but after a while became 
victorious. Their numbers increased, and what they 
lost otherwise, as in weapons, etc., they gained in in- 
creased spirit and courage. 

They carried on their warfare, after the death of the 
aged priest, under the leadership of his son, Judas, 
whose surname was Maccabeus, or The Hammer. 


In a series of conflicts which ensued, the Jews were 
mainly victorious. Jerusalem was retaken, the temple 
cleansed, the sacrifices resumed. After that manner 
the religion of Ezra and Nehemiah, the religion of 
the prophets, which had seemed to languish, which 
had been almost lost, as the book of Ecclesiastes wit- 
nesses, was again established. 

By the student of history, and especially one inter- 
ested in the history of the Jews, and in tracing the 
rise of the religion of Christ, it must be deplored that 
the best accounts of these most urgent and signifi- 
cant times, the books of the Maccabees, were excluded 
from our Protestant editious of the Bible. For they 
describe the most heroic period of Israel's history not 
only, but they give us some information of the rise of 
those religious parties which played so important a 
part in the time of Jesus Christ. They also tell us of 
the first association of the Romans with the Jews. 
Judas Maccabeus heard of the might and valor of the 
Romans, and how ready they were to make treaties 
with other nations. " It was told him also of their wars 
and noble acts which they had done among the Gauls, 
and how they conquered them, and brought them un- 
der tribute, and what they had done in Spain, and 
how they had conquered every place though it were 
very remote from them." In a word, Judas heard 
of the universal conquest of this mighty people of 
the West. Moreover, there was something new in 
the mode of the administration of government by this 
great people. They had representatives — over three 
hundred of them — to sit in their senate chambers 
daily, so that the affairs of the people might be well 
ordered ; and one man was chosen each year for the 
administration of executive functions. 


This information so influenced Judas that, being 
himself in straits because of his enemies the Greeks, 
he sent a deputation to Italy to propose an alliance 
with the Romans. Their response to this proposal is 
given : '(Good success be to the Romans, and to the 
people of the Jews, by sea and by land, forever ; the 
sword also, and enemy, be far from them. If there 
come first any war upon the Romans, or any of their 
confederates throughout all their dominion, the people 
of the Jews shall help them, as the time shall be ap- 
pointed, with all their heart ; neither shall they give 
anything unto them that make war upon them, or aid 
them with victuals, weapons, money, or ships, as it 
hath seemed good unto the Romans ; but they shall 
keep their covenants without taking anything there- 
for. In the same manner, also, if war come first upon 
the nation of the Jews, the Romans shall help them 
with all their heart," etc. ) So comes the all-conquer- 
ing Roman upon the ground of the Jew, thenceforth 
to be inseparable from Jewish history, so long as the 
nation remained in the land. 

Internal dissensions arose among the rival princes 
of the Jews, and this gave a pretext to Pompey to 
gain possession of Jerusalem. The priests were slain 
at the altar, and Pompey drew aside the veil that con- 
cealed the most holy place, expecting to find some 
image there. It does not appear that this act, so pro- 
fane to the Jews, was anything more than the curiosity 
of a stranger who had the power to do as he chose, 
and who wished to look upon the gods of a conquered 
people. In this act of profanation, as they deemed it, 
together with later acts of tyranny, such as taking the 
Jewish ruler and other princes to Rome to grace the 
Roman triumph, originated the hatred against the Ro- 


mans, which never afterward ceased nor diminished. 
This triumph of the Roman general occurred about 
63 B. c, and the hatred then incurred had time to root 
itself deeply in the heart of all classes of the Jews 
before the birth of Jesus. 

In the year 37 b. c, Herod, known as " the 
Great," became the king of the Jews, — a man of 
extraordinary talent, as shown by the fact that he was 
able to maintain his throne during the great changes 
in Rome, and in spite of numerous and powerful ad- 
versaries in Syria. He raised the Jewish state in the 
respect of the world, making it the political power it 
had not been before. The old temple he replaced by 
a far more magnificent structure. He knew how to 
adorn cities. He had in perfection the Roman trick 
of securing popular favor by the improvement of 
streets, the establishment of baths, theatres, and the 
like. He builded the city which took the name of 
the Caesar. He gave a splendor to the kingdom it 
had not possessed, according to the traditions of the 
people, since the days of Solomon ; but by reason of 
his foreign birth, and the vices which stained his pri- 
vate character, and because he was a flatterer of the 
Romans, the Jews hated him persistently. Driven by 
the necessities of circumstances, as appears, this man 
slew many of his own kin, including three of his 
sons, thus testifying to the evils of times which made 
such crimes necessary in a ruler. Thus the days of 
Herod were to the Jews days of horror, making them 
all the more solicitous to maintain the integrity of 
their own religion. 

One can have but a partial and possibly misleading 
view of the state of the Jews under the Roman rule, 
and of the condition of things into which Jesus was 


born, who fails to note the rise and development of 
three distinct parties among them. It is, perhaps, 
impossible to trace any of these parties to its origin. 
But of the existence of the three, the Gospels of the 
New Testament bear abundant testimony. These three 
divisions, partly religious and partly political, are re- 
spectively named the Pharisee, the Sadducee, and the 
Essene. In many respects the first of these is the 
most important, and has the closest relation with the 
life and teachings of Christ. 

The name signifies separation. The Pharisee was 
the Separatist. Perhaps he began his career in revolt 
against that rule of Greek influence which manifests 
itself in the book of Ecclesiastes, and which came to 
success under the lead of Judas Maccabeus. For 
under the Greek influence the old rigors introduced 
by Ezra, the laws against intermarriage and social 
intercourse with other peoples, had fallen all but 
dead. The atrocious attempt of Antiochus to destroy 
the last remnant of Jehovah worship had, as we have 
seen, awakened a new and brave zeal for the old laws 
and the old religion. The cry arose for a new sep- 
aration of the people of the divine promises from 
the heathen. In the time of Ezra, the same cry had 
resulted in the violent divorce of Jewish men from 
their heathen wives. The ties of nature, which are 
really more sacred than any artificial ties of society or 
religion, had been ruthlessly violated. Husbands sent 
away their wives and children in order to become once 
more loyal Jews. No doubt Ezra, in his pious zeal for 
the honor of Jehovah, believed that God does require 
such barbarous things of the children of men. At any 
rate, the old idea of separation, which had been slowly 
growing up, revived after the exile, and again revived 


in the days of Judas, the heroic son of the heroic 
old priest Matthias. In many ways the idea was 
taken up by a class of patriotic Jews. Whether they 
named themselves the Separatists, or were so named 
by their opponents, we do not know ; but they became 
very strong with the people. In a certain sense, now 
difficult to understand fully, they were at the same 
time the progressive party. They were not a set of 
hypocrites, as we may have imagined. Doubtless there 
were hypocrites among them, but so are there in any 
party. What they wished was to assert the preemi- 
nence of the Jew over other men. To this feeling they 
had been stimulated by the book of Daniel, which 
foretold the supremacy of the Jews in the world (to 
be shortly realized), and by other writings of a simi- 
lar character. But if the nation were separated from 
other nations less holy, or unclean, so also individ- 
uals in the nation who aspired to holiness must keep 
themselves from association with even Jews of lax re- 
ligion and morals. Those who loved the law should 
hate those who cared nothing for the law. They should 
separate them from their company as unclean and de- 
filing. Such feelings grow naturally out of the desire 
to abide by regulations for conduct. If they are un- 
modified by other feelings, such as those which make 
love for God and man the chief element in religion, 
they will soon develop into excess, and become the most 
hateful of all feelings. "(The Pharisees grew exceedingly 
proud and exclusive. They knew and affirmed their 
superiority to other men. They could go into the 
temple and pray, and thank God that they were better 
than other men, because they kept the laws and paid 
the taxes^\ 
( The Sadducees were of patrician rank ; and while 


one of their number might be a Pharisee, although he 
would thereby sacrifice the esteem and countenance of 
his fellow-Sadducees, no person not to the manner 
horn could be a Sadducee. The Sadducees fell from 
political power with the beginning of the reign of 
Herod. From that time on, the Pharisees gained the 
ascendancy in Jewish affairs which they were able to 
maintain nearly to the end. 

There was another party, of small numbers and of 
little political significance, but of which Josephus, the 
Jewish historian, makes much in his Antiquities. The 
Essen es were the most devoted of all the Jews in their 
religion ; but their religion was of a type not directly 
authorized by the law. They separated themselves 
even from the Separatists. They did not frequent the 
temple, although for a time they sent gifts to its cof- 
fers and altars. They may have been indebted to dis- 
ciples of Pythagoras among the Greeks as much as to 
the Jewish Scriptures for the distinctive features of 
their religion. They seem to have lived in small com- 
munities, at long distance from the larger towns, and 
to a considerable extent in the regions of the Dead Sea. 
They engaged themselves in agriculture, or bee-keep- 
ing, or herding. They disdained all adornment, their 
dress being such as John the Baptist is described as 
wearing. They were vegetarians, and abstained from 
wine. They recognized no social distinctions. There 
were no rich and no poor. They were brethren, and 
had all things in common. By them marriage was not 

The three religions were in force at the birth of 
Christ. They may be called three religions because 
the adherents of each were separated from the others 
by distrust, and even hatred. The Pharisees were the 


most enlightened, the most progressive, and the most 
engaged in affairs. They were doing the most to shape 
the religious and social destiny of the nation. They 
were the ones with whom the coming Christ would 
have most in common. 

Meanwhile, and for a long time, the religious teach- 
ers of the people were not absent or idle. The 
Scribes, of whom perhaps Ezra at the exile had been 
the first, formed a body of men who paid attention to 
the explanation of the law and interpretation of its 
difficulties. They had attained great authority among 
the people. They sat in Moses' seat. In general 
there were two opposing or at least unsympathetic 
schools. One of these schools, or " houses, " as they 
were called, seems to have been founded by a very 
wise and virtuous man, Hillel by name. This man 
extended the authority of the Scribes, while at the same 
time he himself exercised his authority in the mildest 
fashion. His precepts are some of them of the sort 
found in the Sermon on the Mount. The Talmud tells 
us that once, when a heathen asked Hillel to show him 
the whole of the Jewish religion in a few words, he an- 
swered : "Do not unto others that which thou would st 
not should be done to thee : this is the whole extent of 
the law ; all the rest is merely explanation of it. Go 
now and learn to understand that." A teacher able 
and wise enough to teach after that manner is one who, 
like the great prophets of an earlier time, can under- 
stand and express the substance of religion, overlaid 
and obscured as it is by unspeakable masses of tradi- 
tion and performance. 

A very melancholy spectacle was always in sight 
of the thoughtful Jew during this period. With 
the advent of the Greeks there had come, as we have 


seen, an assimilation of Greek ideas and Greek man- 
ners and customs. There had ensued upon the Ro- 
man alliance a new admixture. Galilee had for a 
long time been known as a gathering place or district 
of heathen. Many Jews dwelt in Galilee, but they 
were mostly infected with the manners, and to some 
extent the morals, of the heathen. Away from Je- 
rusalem, and in the smaller cities and villages, there 
were multitudes who had become indifferent to the 
laws of the Jews. There were many persons who 
were ready and glad to gain wealth by favoring the 
cause of the Romans, and to extract money from their 
Jewish brethren by the taxes. 

And so, at the time of the beginning of the mission 
of Christ, a number of Jews were in the land, dis- 
owned by the Pharisees and by the priests, and left 
untaught and uncared for. There was no religious 
teacher who seemed to give any attention to this 
multitude. All that was done was to withdraw from 
any association with them. They were Jews by birth, 
but on account of their lax morals, and their inatten- 
tion to the demands of the law, they were cast adrift 
from Judaism to fare as they might. To this result 
had the mixing of the Jews with other nations, dur- 
ing a period of four centuries, brought religion. The 
religious were few. The people had to a large ex- 
tent grown cold toward the rites of the temple, and 
toward the sacred traditions. The advocates of reli- 
gion, whether Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes, had 
little hold upon these disowned masses. In a way, 
these Jews were infidels. They were classified as " sin- 
ners," and to the pious Jew a sinner was a horror. 

But there was coming, and in fact was already ar- 
rived, one who was to look upon these disowned multi- 


tudes in a new way. He would look upon them as 
sheep destitute of a shepherd. If the strictly reli- 
gious people, the Scribes and Pharisees, may have 
been expected to be the friends and helpers of this 
new teacher, the expectation will be disappointed. The 
coming teacher of Israel will find his friends and the 
subjects of his teachings in these " lost sheep of the 
house of Israel." Thus a new career will begin in 
Judaism. Israel, which has been trained for some 
centuries in the school of a haughty exclusiveness, 
will give birth to a new and divine teacher, who will 
go with tender and winning solicitude to these " lost," 
and thus establish that new religion in which all the 
heathen, and all the " lost," shall have their part. 



At some military posts, sunrise is greeted with the 
firing of a gun, and the day dismissed in like manner 
at sundown. The sun itself makes no noise in its ris- 
ing, and may be said to be unobserved by the most 
of people ; but military and other persons sometimes 
make much noise in the world. At certain times 
their noise is contemporaneous with the rising or the 
setting of suns. Eras are sometimes ushered in by 
tumult ; by revolution and downfall of nations ; and 
sometimes the new eras come quietly enough. They 
are not known to have come when they are actually 
here. It is left to the future to look back and declare 
that at such a time the new era came. 

( The greatest era in human history, compared with 
which all previous eras were relatively insignificant, 
was born in troublous times, to be sure, but without 
attracting the attention of any single soul of mam) 
There are stories well known by all Christendom, and 
made much of by all Christians, of which this is to be 
said, that they were the growth of later years. To 
these stories we will give little credit, provided we are 
studying the Bible as we study any other literature. 
Precisely such stories we reject as unhistorical when 
we find them in the scriptures of other Oriental peo- 
ples. Now we are endeavoring to study the Bible as 
we would study any religious book. We are trying 


to discriminate in its history the things which are his- 
torical and the things which are unhistorical. This 
we can do only as we apply such a mode of investiga- 
tion as we find best adapted to the purpose of literary 
and historical criticism. 

So we think of the beginning of the greatest era of 
human history as coming unobserved by the multi- 
tude, and really unobserved by any one. The kingdom 
of heaven cometh without observation. Now there are 
two widely distinct fields of thought : the one is the 
physical, including all that belongs to the recurrence 
of seasons, days and nights, and the events which oc- 
cur in them ; the other is the spiritual, including the 
principles of religion. It certainly must strike any 
one who knows anything of the teachings of Jesus that 
his work and thought were almost exclusively in the 
spiritual realm. In the physical sense, and as regards 
the physical facts, he was the child of a humble paren- 
tage among the Jews. But with these and such like 
facts he was not greatly interested. His mind moved 
in the realm of spiritual verities, the realm which may 
be called the kingdom of heaven. His conduct and 
his words w T ere of that realm. He spoke of himself as 
the Son of God. His assumption of this rank has 
been regarded as a most serious statement in the realm 
of physics, both by his followers and by opponents. Yet 
there is no recorded saying of his which in any measure 
justifies the belief that he believed himself to be the 
Son of God in the physical sense. If we, with the 
light of greater knowledge of things physical than his 
contemporaries had, are careful to discriminate between 
the physical and the spiritual ; if we are capable of 
recognizing a spiritual power in ourselves, and a capa- 
city for religion, or the spiritual life, — we need not be 


puzzled by those mysteries which for many centuries 
have caused offense to the learned and the thoughtful. 

He who makes the claim of being the Son of God 
when he is not is a deceiver, and ought to be so 
ranked. That is one evident principle. Another is 
that, in such an age as that wherein Jesus Christ was 
born, there are very few who will be able to under- 
stand the claimant of a divine sonship except in the 
physical sense. While an obscurity rests upon the 
actual history of Jesus during his life in the world, suf- 
ficient of the light of his divine life shines out through 
the clouds to assure any reverent soul that he was in 
very truth what he claimed to be, the Son of Godr v 
The evidence that he was the Son of God in the phy- 
sical sense is, to say the least, exceedingly slender ; but 
if that evidence were perfect, it would add no weight 
or authority to his teachings in the spiritual realm. 

If in the study of the Bible we had found that all 
its statements are infallibly correct, so that in no case 
was a blunder made in respect to any matter whatso- 
ever, there would then be no appeal from the slight 
evidence given of the divine parentage of Jesus in a 
physical sense. So long as the Bible holds that place 
in the regard of any one, that whatsoever is found 
therein is final and not to be doubted, there will be 
no question respecting the birth of Jesus. He will 
be regarded as the Son of God in the sense of religion 
and in the sense of physics. But once see that the 
Bible is not infallible, that there are errors in it which 
confess themselves to any person of judgment, and 
forthwith the question in regard to Jesus and his re- 
lation to nature will arise. 

If our study of the Old Testament has been of 
real service to us, we have seen that above all other 


books, because it is the book of religion, the Bible 
ought to be read with discrimination. That is to say, 
we are not to take all of its statements as of equal 
value or equal truth. If we do not read it with dis- 
crimination, we fail to get at the value of it. It ma}' 
be said that readers of the Bible read with two differ- 
ent motives : the one class reads for the purpose of 
seeing exactly what the Bible says, without a care as 
to the particular nature of the saying ; the other class 
reads to know not only what is said, but if possible 
why it was said. (The one method is that of supersti- 
tion, and the other is that of reason, and for the pur- 
pose of instruction. Now, that all of the statements 
of the Bible are not of equal truth any one can see 
for himself, if he will but give attention. 

An illustration offers itself. Let any one read the 
fifty-first Psalm with attention. There is perhaps 
nothing in the world which will so touch the heart of 
a sinful man, who is repentant, as that matchless 
hymn. By some editor of the hymns of Israel it was 
attributed to David, and surmised that it was writ- 
ten by the conscience-stricken king after the commis- 
sion of a great crime. It was such a hymn as the 
king certainly might have written under those circum- 
stances ; or any one else, for that matter. But there 
are sentiments in it which are believed to belong to a 
later time. However, the hymn was edited, as we 
shall surely see. It was "improved" by a later 

The sentiment of the hymn is one of deep contri- 
tion. The writer of it has discovered himself to be 
exceedingly evil. He is appalled at the vision of his 
iniquity; and since he has the idea of a holy God, 
he feels he has offended, not so much against his fel- 


low human beings as against God's goodness. More 
than all else in the world he desires to be cleansed 
from his iniquity. He does not see how he can be 
cleansed. He does not see how he can do it himself, 
and he prays the merciful and just God to do it. He 
hopes that God will not hide his face from him ; that 
God will blot out all his iniquities, will create a new 
heart in him, and renew a right spirit within him. 
So far we need have no difficulty in interpreting the 
hymn, which so vividly expresses our own feeling of 
contrition when we are convicted of our own sinful- 

The writer, in considering his own case, and how 
to rid himself of the burden and defilement of his 
sin, perceives that sacrifices upon the altar will do 
no good. True, it was an important part of the 
priestly regulations that guilt would be done away by 
sacrifices. It was the law which the priestly party 
had always sought to make binding upon the con- 
sciences of the people; but the writer of the hymn, 
whoever he may have been, did not believe it. He 
saw no relation between his sinfulness and the sacrifice 
of animals upon the altar. This is his testimony : 
" Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and up- 
hold me with thy directing spirit. O Lord, open thou 
my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. 
For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it ; 
thou delightest not in burnt offering: the sacrifices 
of God are a broken spirit ; a broken and a contrite 
heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." The meaning 
is perfectly plain. It is summed up in the deep sense 
of evil, in the appeal to God to cleanse the soul from 
its sin ; in the affirmation that God does not wish sac- 
rifices, else would they have been given, and that the 


sacrifices of God are contrition on the part of the sin- 
ner. So far, good. Now comes the later hand to 
"improve" this beautiful psalm, so that it may pro- 
perly find a place in the hymns of the Jews, and be 
acceptable to the priests as well as to the sinners. 
" Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion ; build thou 
the walls of Jerusalem. Then shalt thou be pleased 
with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offer- 
ing and whole burnt offering; then shall they offer 
bullocks upon thine altar." Now the contrite sinner 
said as distinctly as possible that, if burnt offerings 
had been acceptable to God, he would have tried to 
get rid of his sense of sin by offering sacrifices ; but 
he was deeply convinced that such things as sacrifices 
are of no avail. He felt that his own contrition and 
horror of his sins were precisely the sacrifices God 
wished, but the man who " improved " the hymn 
was of a different mind. He believed in sacrifices. 
He thought God believed in them, too ; and, by so 
much as he could, he unsaid the truth of the hymn, 
and reduced it to simple absurdity. If the first part 
of that psalm is true, the second part, the addition or 
" improvement," is not true. If we accept both as 
true, then we reduce both to nothing, because these 
conflicting statements mutually neutralize each other. 
Now from our experience, so far as it goes, we know 
that the first part is the truth ; and therefore that the 
addition is irretrievably false, and ought not to be 
tolerated. It is only as we reject the addition, and 
put upon it the brand of falsehood, we really believe 
the truth of the real hymn. 

The same principle obtains elsewhere. The editors 
of different portions of the Old Testament undertook 
to unsay the things in the writings which were not 


acceptable to them. In the book of Ecclesiastes, the 
whole sentiment of which is unmistakably against the 
hope of immortality, the editor added a few words 
expressive of that hope. The book was to go into 
the sacred canon, but the sentiment of it was rejected, 
and the addition or " improvement " made which 
would neutralize the objectionable sentiment. 

One such illustration is as good as an hundred. 
We cannot be left in doubt that for the purposes of re- 
ligion, as well as of accurate knowledge, we must bring 
discrimination to the Bible, and apply it faithfully. 
yWhat is true of the Old Testament is equally true 
of the New. For the New Testament, while it is the 
book of the new dispensation, or a new era, makes no 
violent break with the Old. When the new dispen- 
sation begins, it begins as quietly as the dawn. It is 
a forth-putting of the old, in a new vigor and in a 
better form. The habits of expression, the habits 
of thought, of the Jew persist. There is not a great 
blank of centuries between the prophets of the old 
and the messengers of the new. In fact, the new is 
brought before us by one in the spirit of an ancient 
prophet. Where the old age meets the new, we do 
not enter a realm of things more supernatural than 
before." We enter a realm in which nature itself be- 
gins to assume more of the divine. We do not find 
the messenger of the new covenant teaching men how 
they may ascend the height of the heaven, but how they 
may open their characters and lives to the incoming of 
the heavenly and the divine. 

The first historians and biographers, unlike Jesus, 
of whom they undertook to tell us, were not free 
from the notions of their predecessors. They inter- 
pret the sayings and deeds of Jesus on the phy- 


sical side. Instead of being steadied in thought by the 
vision of the divine presence, they were thrown out of 
balance by visions of the divine interference, as in oc- 
casional spasms. Therefore are we bound, if we would 
be learners of the truth of Jesus, to bring careful dis- 
crimination to the study of the words of his biogra- 
phers. Here, as elsewhere and as everywhere, it is 
our reasonable duty to " prove all things, and to hold 
fast (only) to that which is good." 

So far as we know, Jesus Christ made no record of 
his own birth, life, and deeds. Knowing, as he did, 
the fallibility of his followers, knowing that they were 
liable to error in important matters, and being com- 
pelled to rebuke them often for such errors, it seems 
proper to assume that, if he had considered the facts 
of his birth in this world of great importance in the 
promulgation of his gospel, he would have taken the 
work in hand of presenting a veritable autobiog- 
raphy. The truths of his mission, the gospel he came 
to make in the world, he committed to his followers, 
bidding them spread them. He seems to have been 
confident that, in spite of various errors of interpre- 
tation, they would give forth those fundamental truths 
which would redeem the world from its sin and misery. 
He refrained from writing anything himself. When 
his followers should have fully come into the spirit 
of his work, they would be able to carry it on, and 
to transmit it to their successors. His failure to write 
is the more remarkable because the age was favor- 
able for writing, and Palestine was full of scribes ; 
but it may at least show us that he trusted to the 
spirit of his work, and to the faithfulness of his dis- 
ciples in carrying it on, rather than to writings. 

Therefore, for a time, there were no writings of the 


new dispensation, as we may call it. It is all but 
certain that an enthusiastic expectation of Christ's 
early return to the earth was very prevalent for a few 
years. If that glorious new kingdom for which they 
had been taught to pray were really coming in a short 
time, it was useless to commit anything to writing; 
and so for a time that important work was neglected. 
In the course of a few years after the death of Jesus 
(it has heretofore been impossible to determine ac- 
curately how many years, though it may be affirmed 
that the number was less than eight), a man of ex- 
traordinary ability and tireless energy, and of consid- 
erable learning, joined the ranks of the followers of 
Jesus. When we first discover this man, he is a per- 
secutor, and of the most violent type. He is deter- 
mined to crush out .the new religion before it gains 
such headway as to threaten the religion of Ezra and 
Nehemiah. To that end he devotes himself with a 
singleness of purpose, always characteristic of the 

He is present when the enraged Jews stone to death 
their first Christian victim, Stephen. He consents to 
that act, and the witnesses laid down their clothes at 
his feet. It is probable that this scene, instead of 
softening his heart toward the Christians, fixed him 
the more in his purpose to exterminate them. He is in 
league with the authorities at Jerusalem, and becomes 
their efficient agent. He does not wish to confine his 
efforts to Jerusalem and its vicinity, but pushes out 
into the other cities. He plans an attack upon the 
followers of Jesus at the distant city of Damascus, and 
is on his way thither, when he is blinded by a light- 
ning stroke from the sky, thrown to the ground, and 
then hears the voice of the persecuted Jesus calling 


to him, and bidding him renounce his course. He 
goes on to Damascus with his company, but he goes to 
learn, and not to destroy, the religion of Jesus. His 
sight is restored to him, and he devotes himself to the 
study of the new dispensation. He tells us in one of 
his epistles that he conferred not with flesh and blood, 
and that he did not go up to Jerusalem to learn of the 
disciples there, some of whom had become the apostles 
of the new religion, but that he retired to Arabia. 
Now, what he did in Arabia we do not know : our 
natural conjecture is that in solitude he devoted him- 
self, after the manner in which he had been trained in 
the school of Gamaliel, to the formulation of the reli- 
gion of Jesus, and its relation with the religion of the 
Jews. He did not renounce the Jewish religion ; but 
to him, more than to any other, we are indebted for 
the connection we find between the old and the new. 
He becomes the master-mind in the new movement. 
He does not find himself in harmony of idea with the 
apostles at Jerusalem. He is able to take a far more 
comprehensive view of the religion of Jesus, as the 
flower and final expression of the religion of the law 
and the prophets, than these simple-minded and un- 
learned Galileans. He perceives that the Jew enjoys 
this advantage, namely, that to him have been com- 
mitted the precious legacy of the divine oracles. He 
also perceives that he has received such trust that he 
may become a blessing to the Gentiles. In this mis- 
sion the Jews had dismally failed through their obtuse- 
ness. Now the time has come for the old promises to 
be fulfilled. He himself will become the apostle to 
the Gentiles. He will be the truer Jew, because he 
will carry out the long-neglected mission of the Jews. 
And all this is made possible because Jesus had been 


born, and taught, and died, a supreme sacrifice for the 
sake of men. 

Paul does not seem to attach so much importance 
to the teachings of Jesus as to his person. He is 
altogether entranced, fascinated, and subjugated by 
the personality of Jesus. He learns to love him with 
a love as deep and enthusiastic as it is lasting. His 
greatest ambition, his dearest purpose, in the attain- 
ment of which he is ready to sacrifice every earthly 
advantage, and even his pride in his nation, is to know 
Christ, — to experience Jesus in his own life, to live 
Christ, as he expresses it. For the sayings of Jesus 
he does not so much care ; he quotes very few, almost 
none of them. The person of Jesus is so dear to him 
that he thinks only of living Jesus' life over again, 
though he feels that he can do that only in an imper- 
fect and fragmentary way. Such devotion is above 
that of the other disciples. 

Paul began to write. Others may have written be- 
fore he did, but we have no knowledge of any such. 
He began to put the stamp of his purpose and his way 
of thinking upon the early church. It is entirely pos- 
sible that he created and greatly stimulated the desire 
of the people to have a written account of the birth and 
life, and deeds and sayings of Jesus. The expectation 
of the speedy return of Jesus was waning. Some 
doubtless held it strongly, but with some it had become 
a matter of doubt. Thus began attempts to set forth 
the biography of Jesus. 

The study of these early endeavors is involved in 
profound difficulty. Yet some progress is made. Our 
scholars have arrived at the almost if not quite unani- 
mous opinion that, of the four accounts preserved to us 
in our Bibles, the second account is the oldest. It i<* 


surmised, and with much reason, that this is not the 
first detailed account that was made, but it is the first 
of the four. 

Now when this first of the preserved biographies of 
Jesus was written, the notion that Jesus was physically, 
so to speak, the Son of God had not attained a com- 
manding influence. In the multitude of stories afloat 
in the popular imagination, that story may have had a 
place ; but the writer of this first biographical sketch 
did not credit it, or he did not regard it as important : 
therefore he omits all reference to it. The birth of 
Jesus, where he came from, and what he did as a child, 
or until he began his mission, secured no notice from 

Those things were before the gospel. The gospel 
did not begin until John commenced his preaching of 
repentance in the wilderness of Judea. After John, 
Jesus makes his appearance and begins to preach in the 
same strain. That is to the writer of the very first 
biography the beginning of the new dispensation. If 
the gospel is tidings of good, then these tidings of 
good do not commence to be given with the birth of 
Jesus, but with the beginning of his preaching. 

It may be said that this is merely an omission on the 
part of the evangelist, and that the omission was made 
good by the accounts of the later biographers. Per- 
haps it is open to any one to take his choice as to 
whether Mark made an omission, or Luke and Mat- 
thew afterwards made an addition. The way of the 
Jews seems always to have been to make additions. 
That is the way they " improved " the writings. At 
all events, this first biographer, who responded to the 
wide influence of Paul, and believed it to be his duty 
to write the account, omitted the things that the church 


has held to be vital. One might be justified in con- 
cluding that these things are in fact not vital, that 
they truly have no relation to the divine gospel, and 
that the church has been mistaken in that, as it has 
been in most matters. 

This fact brings to our view precisely what was 
going on in those days. Many persons were talking 
over these things, — the life and teachings of Jesus. 
Many persons were writing accounts or fragments of 
accounts. Into these accounts we may be reasonably 
sure were woven many a thread of myth, as indeed 
we find and acknowledge in the so-called Apocryphal 
books of the New Testament. 

Wherefore, if it becomes us to read the Old Testa- 
ment history and all its divers portions with discrim- 
ination, it much more becomes us to use discrimination 
in the New Testament, and its biographies or bio- 
graphical fragments. The sublime religion of Jesus 
will be found to shine out through all the mists of 
myth, which so plentifully arose in those days ; and 
it is the religion of Jesus we want, for we believe it 
is the religion of Jesus which is to save the world. 
That religion has been buried under a copious myth- 
substance long and weary ages. But, the myths being 
discriminated from the truths, we may hope to see the 
brightness of Jesus rising once more upon the darkened 



Among the works of creation, none is more interest- 
ing to trace than the making of language. The spoken 
language undoubtedly antedated the written language. 
The preservation of the experiences and the wisdom of 
a generation, for the benefit of coming times, was long 
intrusted to the spoken tradition. The time comes 
when this is found inadequate, and picture-words come 
into vogue. Out of the picture-words in due time 
grow the letters, each being significant, and arbitrarily- 
standing for a distinct sound. Then come the words, 
made of combinations of these various signs. 

For the preservation of these words, certain provi- 
sions are made : the picture-words are cut in dura- 
ble stone ; or a kind of clay is found which will re- 
ceive the impression of a stylus, or other instrument 
of marking, and may then be baked hard, so as to 
be as like stone as possible. The numerous tablets 
unearthed in ancient Babylonia, Nineveh, and else- 
where, testify to the durability of this method of 

The moulding of .tablets, and the cutting of in- 
scriptions upon stone, is a slow labor, and after a time 
proves inadequate for the demands of a people learn- 
ing to love and use literature. Now it is found that 
Providence has always something ready to meet the 
reasonable demands of human beings. Whenever 


people are ready for the use of that which they do not 
possess, God inspires some one to look more deeply 
into the mysteries of Nature and take out of her inex- 
haustible storehouse the thing that is needed. There- 
fore after some development of the art of writing, it 
was found that a reed growing in abundance along the 
Nile would furnish a supply of papyrus for the writers. 
The stem of the reed was sliced in such a manner as 
to make long and narrow rolls of a thin plate, the sur- 
face of which, after proper preparation, would take and 
hold the writing of the scribe. An ink was made from 
animal carbon and oils, and a reed, sharpened some- 
what to a point, was employed for a pen, and so came 
that form or mode of literature which is fit for libra- 
ries. The use of the papyrus spread northward, and had 
become somewhat common in Greece about the time 
of Alexander the Great. A considerable manufacture 
sprang up, and it is said that the reed was cultivated 
in southern Italy. Rolls or books of papyrus were 
discovered in Herculaneum, which were found to con- 
sist chiefly of works of the Epicurean philosophers. 
After the early Christians began to find the need of 
writing the history of Jesus, they had recourse to the 
papyrus. ^-^_-- 

It will occur to any one that the papyrus must in 
the nature of the case prove a very fragile paper. It 
is very easily broken ; if it is passed about from 
hand to hand, the edges become frayed, and in a short 
time the writing becomes but faintly legible. It is 
probable that the poorest paper now used for writing 
is much more durable than the papyrus. It becomes 
evident that the first writers of accounts of Jesus used 
this fragile material for their work, when we become 
aware that no original copy is extant, and moreover 


that no trace of an original document of the sort is 
found in the oldest Christian literature. The end of 
the second century of our era was a time of great dis- 
putation, when men were talking much of the exact 
readings of texts ; for it was then that the writings of 
the Christian scribes were beginning to take rank in 
the minds of the Christian leaders with the Old Testa- 
ment books. Up to that time the writings, such as the 
letters of Paul and others and the accounts of the 
deeds and death of Jesus, had not been valued any more 
than the spoken tradition. Then a new estimation 
began to be attached to these writings, — a value which 
the early writers evidently did not anticipate. 

Copies of the works of some of the early writers had 
been made, but the copying was not so carefully done 
as it had been done by the Jewish scribes, who re- 
garded their office a sacred one, and of a nature that 
called for the utmost scrupulousness and exactitude. 
The accounts of Jesus and the epistles of Paul and 
Barnabas and others were not ranked as parts of the 
Bible until long after they were written. Hence 
there was lacking that sense of responsibility in the 
copyists which would have been very desirable. The 
time came when better copies were made, and they, 
while they were copies of copies, bear witness of great 
painstaking. They were made upon parchment, which 
is durable, and the letters were each made symmetri- 
cally and carefully, and were almost as regular in sym- 
metry and alignment as print. The words were not 
separated from each other, but the letters, which were 
all capitals, followed each other, so many on each line, 
and it was left to the reader to make up the words 
from the letters. These fine and durable manuscripts, 
however, were not made until about the beginning of 


the fourth century, and the papyrus manuscripts are 
supposed to have perished. 

It may be assumed that God prevented any mistake 
from creeping into the early papyrus accounts ; and 
that he did not permit the copyists to commit any er- 
ror, however small ; in fact just that has been assumed. 
An assumption, however, ought to have something in 
it, the validity of which we all ought to see at once. It 
ought to appeal either to our experience or our intui- 
tion, or both. This assumption does not correspond 
with our experience, certainly. For our experience is 
that men, good and wise, and even spiritually-minded 
men, do make mistakes. God does not prevent them 
from so doing. 

The conviction of modern theists is that God is the 
Creator of the world, and of all things therein. This 
was also the conviction of some of the ancient Hebrew 
hymn writers. Yet all of God's work of creation, so 
far at least as we can discern it, is in the realm of the 
incomplete, the imperfect. The work of the geometri- 
cians comes nearer perfection than any other writing of 
which we have knowledge ; but that is because in their 
sphere they have to deal with exact terms. Their 
terms are not approximate and fluid, but definite. 
The terms of a biography are very different ; life is 
the hardest of anything to describe, and the difficulty 
of description increases in proportion as the life is 
higher and more complex. Therefore, we ought to 
realize that the early Christian writers undertook to 
write about a life more difficult of description than 
any other. They vividly felt that difficulty, or at least 
some of them did. The superiority of that life shines 
through all the tales they tell of it. The tales are dif- 
ficult, and to some impossible, to believe, but the life 
it is impossible to discredit. 


John Stuart Mill 1 says : u The tradition of follow- 
ers suffices to insert any number of marvels, and may 
have inserted all the miracles which he is reputed 
to have wrought ; but who among the disciples, or 
among their proselytes, was capable of inventing the 
sayings ascribed to Jesus, or of imagining the life and 
character revealed in the Gospels? " Jesus cast forth 
his sublime thoughts into the mass of humanity about 
him. Suppose his words had been of the geometrical 
order, — exact, and not approximate. Suppose that 
exactness of repetition had been the thing he insisted 
upon, as necessary to the survival of his religion. 
Then indeed we might have looked to see all that he 
said reported exactly. Indeed, in that case, either he 
would have made his own book, or have secured the" 
service of some one competent to make exact reports 
of all that he said, and to have set forth the facts of 
his life as accurately as possible for human pen. But 
do we not catch the feeling he had in regard to his 
work and word, in the saying reported : " The words 
that I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life7' ? 
These words of spirit and life are not the words of an 
exact science, like that infallible science of geometry. 
They are words which fail of being caught, except 
in the sense or spirit of them. The words dissolve, 
just as the living seeds which the sower casts into 
the ground dissolve. The thoughts expressed filter 
through a great many minds, and produce varying im- 
pressions. The speaker who is most alive, who thrills 
the breast of his listener with the fire of greatest and 
most enlightening thoughts, is of all others the one who 
most eludes accurate report. By reason of the great 
power of his teaching, and tile greater life of it, he is 
1 Essay on Theism, cited by E. Clodd, in Jesus of Nazareth. 


more than any other likely to be misreported. The 
spirit and the life (and these the speaker values, — 
these alone) persist. In all the Gospels in our Bible, 
and in many of the other writings, they have persisted. 
There is a warmth about them, a vitality, an immortal- 
ity, which secures their permanence, after the first 
form of their expression is dissolved away and lost. 

Now one fault of our thoughts about the Gospels has 
been that we have looked in them for a kind of spir- 
itual mathematics. We have not considered the im- 
possibility of accurate reports of such a life as that. 
In fact, the church has always imagined Jesus and his 
life and teachings to be less than they were. True, we 
have glorified him and his words, and paid to them 
divine honors, verbally, but we have failed to detach 
the husk of the report from the kernel of the truth in 
the report. Therefore, since criticism is coming in 
like a flood, sweeping all before it (that is, all that is 
affected by the thinking of the time), many of us 
find ourselves afloat in the rising tide, and not know- 
ing at all what is coming of all this investigation. Of 
one thing it is possible to be sure : that those who be- 
lieve in the spirit and truth of the words of Jesus, and 
to whom his life is a revelation of God in our human 
society, will discover the truth and life made clearer 
and more practical to them, by the sifting process now 
going on. The very object of sifting is to separate, 
and bring into clearer distinction, the permanent and 
the transient elements of religion.—-^ 

It has been held that the four Gospels were written 
by the persons whose names appear in the titles ; but 
the titles were added by editors. The writers of the 
Gospels did not attach their names to their writings ; 
but later men, judging by such information as they 


possessed, added the titles, as we now find them. So it 
is held that the Apostle Matthew wrote the first Gos- 
pel; a man named John Mark, a companion of Pe- 
ter, and sometime of Paul, the second ; Luke, a phy- 
sician, the third. These three are known in criticism 
as the " synoptic " Gospels, because the three seem to 
" see together." Now there is no surety that Matthew 
wrote the first Gospel, the Gospel which bears his name 
in the title. It is more probable that Luke wrote the 
third Gospel, and we depend mainly upon untrust- 
worthy tradition in ascribing the authorship of the 
second Gospel to Mark. It does not signify very 
much (except to the critic) who wrote them. 

Proceeding upon the great probability that the 
Gospel ascribed to Mark's authorship is the earliest of 
the four, we perceive, by a comparison of it with the 
others, the evidence of a growth of sentiment and tra- 
dition with respect to Jesus. The ground, in its most 
fertile localities, is not more productive of vegetable 
growths than is the human mind and imagination of 
notional growths. Jesus had sown broadcast in Pal- 
estine, among the common people, the principles of a 
great religion. His personality had been the most 
vital, the most influential, the strongest, of any that 
had ever appeared. That there would not be a crop 
of stories of multiform sorts after such a mission could 
be expected by no one. The first account does not 
introduce any of these stories concerning the life of 
Jesus before he began his mission. That account of 
the beginning of that mission shows us the material 
out of which the larger stories afterward grew. 

John the Baptist appeared in the Judean wilderness, 
preaching repentance to the people; and the people 
were greatly stirred by him. They felt that such pro- 


phetic utterances portended great results. They went 
out to him in flocks, and listened to his preaching, and 
were baptized in the Jordan, confessing their sins. 
This mission of John meant a great deal to the people, 
but to none could it have meant so much as to Jesus. 
The fame of it had spread into the north country, and 
Jesus was impelled to go to John ; and with the others 
he was baptized. That did not excite the notice of 
John, so far as we know from Mark. The multitudes 
were baptized, confessing their sins ; but it seems that 
Jesus received his baptism in another way, as a con- 
secration to his own great work. According to the 
simple account of Mark, Jesus went down into the 
water, and as he came up out of it, he saw the heavens 
rent, and the Spirit descending like a dove upon him. 
That is what he saw; and in the nature of the case it 
was seen by no one else. The heavens did not rend, 
because such things do not happen. The sky is not a 
tent or canopy over us that there should be a rending 
of it asunder. Here was at last the Man who was able 
to look into the heavens, whose life was not an earthly 
one, but destined to be a heavenly one. The fact can- 
not be stated in terms of physics without setting aside 
the spirit of the law and the prophets. 

But it was the genius of the age to make of such 
things physical phenomena. The pure and grand and 
real vision of Jesus, thus beginning upon his great 
career, was afterward made to be no vision at all, but 
a happening in the world of matter. As we read the 
third Gospel, we see the encroachment of that phys- 
ical idea. Luke tells us that he made great inquiry, 
and attained a more satisfactory history of the affairs 
of Jesus than previous writers. It is Luke who con- 
tradicts the sentiment of the law and the prophets, 


or the spirit of them, by adding to the previous ac- 
counts the very thing which ought Viot to have been 
added. He declares that the Holy Spirit descended 
in a bodily shape, like a dove. That is like the tales 
of the heathen, and does not accord with the testimony 
of Israel. God is not to be represented in a bodily 
form, since so to represent him is inevitably to mis- 
represent him. Instead of a vision of the descent of 
God's Spirit bringing peace, Luke gives an account 
of the incarnation of God in a bird ! This is distinctly 
heathen, and neither Jewish nor Christian. To the 
careless reader it seems a slight modification, but to 
one who absorbs the spirit of the Gospels, and of the 
revelation before the Gospels, it is a sad corruption^ ^ 

It will be well to consider, as we may, the earlier 
history of Jesus. He had this earlier history, and 
some incredible accounts of it are given ; but we can 
suppose the credibilities ; for man's life is a some- 
thing we know much about. Trained in the synagogue, 
and becoming full of the feelings of the prophets, 
Jesus has passed his childhood and youth in the seclu- 
sion of his Galilean home. He has thought out and 
felt out the secret of God. The prophetic utterances 
have not been mere words to him, but they have 
enlightened his soul. If we penetrate the spirit of his 
later years, we at the same time penetrate the educa- 
tion of his earlier years. 

" There is a spirit in man, and the spirit of the Al- 
mighty giveth them understanding." Jesus reaches 
the age of manhood, when the young Jewish man 
attains his majority, but he has no career ; and for 
such as he a career is the one necessity. He can no 
longer live in quietude and seclusion. He must be 
about his Father's business. To receive from God is 


to give. He has not yet received the full vision ; he 
has not yet found his work. Therefore he has had no 
opportunity of giving. 

Meanwhile John is raising his voice in the south. 
His fame spreads far and wide. He is like one of the 
prophets of the olden time. He may be one of the 
greatest of the prophets, risen from the dead. He 
is not to be silenced. He does not go to the haunts 
of men ; his voice, crying in the wilderness, " Make 
straight a way for the Lord," is commanding, and calls 
men out to him. He believes, he of all Israel, the 
divine promises. 

These promises are now hastening to fulfillment. 
He feels that he is not mighty enough for his work ; 
but there will be another to take it up, mightier than 
he. This mightier one will winnow the chaff away 
from the wheat. Jesus comes to him ; he has his mis- 
sion at last. He receives his consecration to it. He 
finds that the heavens, before closed even to him, are 
no longer closed, but opened. God is no longer away, 
or withdrawn. God is present, and God abides upon 
him. Those whose thinking is more materialistic than 
spiritual cannot possibly conceive the experience of Je- 
sus at that supreme time. They can think of a dove 
flying down and alighting on him. They can think 
of him as driven into the wilderness to be tempted by 
Satan. But to think of him as retiring to the loneli- 
ness of the desert, there to feel the awful pressure of 
his mission, the awful temptation of it, — the tempta- 
tion to make use of his great thoughts and powers for 
his own glorification and advantage, — that they cannot 
so much a3 think of. That is a closed volume to them, 
as it may well have been to Luke. 

What things Jesus told his friends — those closest to 


him — of his first divine experiences, of his ecstasy, 
of his peril from real temptation in the desert, they 
in turn told to others. And so grew up that phantasm 
of a bodily shape of God descending from the opened 
heavens ; and the visit of the Persian evil divinity, 
Satan, to confront and if possible to conquer the Son 
of God. The facts which were inward and real the 
popular imagination inclosed in a dress at once fan- 
tastic and unreal ; but the facts are there. Consid- 
ering the age in which they occurred, we can readily 
conceive that they could have come to us in no other 

But the teachings of Christ, both in letter and in 
spirit, show us what to do with the fantastic myth- 
dress in which the popular imagination — and those 
recorders of the popular imagination, the writers of 
the three Synoptic Gospels — clothed them. We are to 
winnow them, if we would know them in their spirit 
and reality. By such judgment and superior informa- 
tion as God has given us, we are to wisely discriminate 
between the writers' stories of the incarnation of God 
in a dove, and the visit of Satan, and the deep experi- 
ences of Jesus which gave rise to those stories.) 

We value the life and teachings of Jesus for their 
inherent worth. J. Stuart Mill, who does not seem 
prepossessed in favor of the Christian doctrines, when 
he reads the New Testament is convicted of the im- 
mense value of the real teachings of Jesus, and the 
loveliness and excellence of his life. The zeal of 
followers and of their proselytes may suffice, he tells 
us, for the strange marvels told in the accounts ; but 
underneath these strange marvels is the life, — is the 
truth. The things told do not seem true.— ^ 

Suppose we could take one of the Gospels, say the 


third, and change all the names of it. The scene is 
not laid in Judea, but somewhere in central China. 
We will give Chinese names to the cities and villages, 
and replace Jewish by Chinese customs and costumes. 
We will sufficiently change the wording of the parables 
to retain their spirit, but not their appearance, and 
then present our book to the intelligent reader. He 
may be a devout Christian. The great probability 
is that he will look upon the book as a fairy tale, 
containing, however, excellent moral sentiments. No 
conviction of the reality of the marvels told will force 
itself upon his mind and conscience. He will perhaps 
wonder where the book came from, and as to its author- 
ship, but it will be a fairy tale, from beginning to end. 

Jesus knew the age in which he lived. He was 
continually combating the unreal ideas of it. Nev- 
ertheless, that age was the soil in which he was to sow 
his life, his character, and his teachings. 

The sower went forth to sow. Some of the seed 
lodged in the good ground and brought forth plenti- 
fully. Yet what the sower sows, identically what he 
sows, never comes up. In the place of the word 
sown rises the plant of an apprehension of it, and 
this may bear little resemblance to the original word. 
The value of it is that it contains the original truth. 
So we have the vision of Jesus at his baptism, seeing 
the open heavens, hearing the divine voice, the descent 
of the Spirit to abide upon him. That is the origi- 
nal truth. Out of that, as out of a seed cast into 
the ground, grew in after years the divine incarnation 
in a dove. That is the plant. The plant grows up, 
and is tenderly cherished, until like other things of a 
living sort it grows ripe, and ready finally to thresh 
out: we winnow the original truth, the living germ, 


from the plant which has come to be dry and unprofit- 
able. When we make our winnowing process thorough, 
as we are taught to do, we rediscover the truth of the 
great vision. At the same time, we cast from us the 
now dried plant, — stalk, chaff, and all, — that being 
burned in the fire of our reasonable criticism. 

Here therefore, at the very outset of the mission of 
Jesus, we encounter the necessity of discerning between 
the flesh and the spirit. The kernel and the husk sep- 
arate and the value is left, and the thing which has 
contributed to the permanence of the truth, having 
fulfilled that purpose, goes the way of all transient 

I take it to be demonstrable that the age in which 
Jesus planted — Jesus and Paul — was fit, in the main, 
for nothing but the outward form of a gospel. It was 
by that outward form the inward fact was preserved : 
through the ages of Christianity thus far, the truth 
of God in Christ has been inclosed in legendary wrap- 
pages. Again, I take it that God is the ordainer of 
times and seasons ; so that whenever the fit time comes 
for the re-sowing of the ancient truth in the soil of the 
whole world, the truth will be made to emerge from its 
envelopment, and again cast as good tidings of great 
joy into the mind of the world. x 



A subject of peculiar tenderness in the Christian 
religion is the birth of Jesus. The freedom of speech 
necessary to its full discussion does not belong to our 
present public propriety, but is appropriate only to 
scientific investigation. It is a difficult and delicate 
matter, and one that might be avoided,, except that 
the creeds of Christendom have enshrined belief in 
the miraculous conception of Jesus in the dearest re- 
gard of the church. There are not a few who feel 
that doubt of the miraculous birth of Jesus is doubt 
o£ the sum and substance of .the religion of Christ. 

\ It is generally supposed that the miraculous birth 
of Jesus is one of the best proven of the facts of re- 
ligion. The Apostles' Creed, which seems the simplest 
and most comprehensive of any of the belief state- 
ments of the church, puts belief in the virgin birth of 
Jesus with belief in God and redemption and immor- 
tality. Therefore it has assumed the place of a fun- 
damental faith. If any one doubts or disbelieves that, 
he has renounced the faith. Gradually a change is tak- 
ing place with reference to the fundamental beliefs of 
the church. It is not that many deny these beliefs, 
for that has always occurred in greater or less mea- 
sure ; but that inside the limits of the church itself 
the inquiry has risen, and is rising still, as to the 
proof or the necessity for the notion of the virgin birth 
of the Son of God. 


Now when the proof of this teaching is demanded, 
it is found to be exceedingly slender. The fact that 
the church has believed the doctrine offers no proof, 
of course. In matters of science the church, without 
being necessarily blamable, has held errors as though 
they were truths. As to the rising and setting of the 
sun, so common a thing as that, the church was uni- 
versally mistaken for many centuries. It may, how- 
ever, be said that the rising and setting of the sun is 
not a religious matter. True ; it is equally true that 
no phenomenon of nature with which science has to do 
is a religious matter. The birth of a human being, or 
a partly human being, from a virgin is a matter not of 
faith, but of science. It is something which has to 
do with natural laws in the realm of physics, v 

If valid scientific proof is adduced that such births 
have taken place, or that one such birth has taken 
place, that becomes an established fact in science ; 
but it still does not touch the hem of the garment of 
religion. Or if it does touch the hem of the garment 
in which religion has clothed itself, it belongs only 
to the garment, not to the religion. It belongs to sci- 
ence to determine, if it ever is able to determine, 
whether such an event as that related by two evan- 
gelists and recited in the Apostles' Creed has actually 
taken place. When it is determined by a perfectly 
unanimous consensus of all scientific men (supposing 
such a consensus to be attainable), the matter will still 
be foreign to the religion of Jesus, it will still have 
to be classified with the data of science. 

If we begin with the belief of the church, it may 
be as well for us to begin where that belief is the 
largest. We may therefore say that at the time of the 
Reformation of Luther there was practically but one 
opinion in Christendom upon the subject. 


Whatever doubt existed was the doubt of a silent 
infidelity, or so for the most part. The Roman, the 
Greek, the Armenian, and the various Protestant 
churches were at one in belief of the virgin birth of 
Jesus. When, however, we go back to the time of 
Constantine, at the beginning of the fourth century, 
we do not find the church unanimous in its belief 
about anything. And if we go farther into the past, 
so as to reach the first believers, we find no evidence 
that any one believed in the virgin birth of Jesus. 
The first writer of the New Testament is Paul, and 
he nowhere indicates that he had any such belief. 
It seems quite incredible that if he had entertained 
the notion he should not have taken pains somewhere 
in his many writings to mention it. The second 
writer, known as Mark, does not mention it ; and 
what is more, later writers, such as the author of the 
epistles of Peter, of Jude, of John, of the Apoca- 
lypse, and of the fourth Gospel, do not make allusion 
to it. Now the makers of the Apostles' Creed regard 
the virgin birth a great and necessary doctrine. They 
rank it with the being of God and with immortality. 
They place the statement of it in a point of great prom- 
inence, as one of the things to be laid to heart. In so 
doing they depart from the spirit of the gospel by in- 
troducing a subject of physical philosophy as belong- 
ing to the substance of Christian faith, vjn thus im- 
posing upon the belief of the church a scientific dogma 
they change the church into something very different 
from the church of Paul and the apostlesTX 

There is no difficulty in seeing how the belief came. 
It can be accounted for as easily as almost any phe- 
nomenon in history. Take Mark's simple account of 
the baptism. Jesus comes to the baptism as no other 


one did or could. He can look up into the heaven, 
and can see the Spirit. He can hear the voice, " This 
is my well beloved Son." He is the first in human 
history who has been able to look up and see what he 
saw, and the first in human history to hear the voice 
of God testifying that he is the Son of God. The 
way in which Mark tells this story, the emphasis 
which in various forms the three Gospels lay upon 
this scene, testify that it was one of great signifi- 
cance to Jesus. Whatever he may have seen and 
felt before, he at last sees and feels that he is the 
Son of God. It does not occur to him that he is 
not at the same time a son of man. It would be for- 
eign to what we know of him, to that light which 
shines out of him, to think he disowned an earthly 
father because he asserted the Heavenly Father. In- 
deed, we may see in his feelings, at the time of his 
initiation into his work, what we afterward hear from 
the lips of Paul. Paul is guarded enough in his lan- 
guage, but he does v not hesitate to say that a son of 
God may be identified, simply by his obedience to the 
Spirit of God. He does not say, and does not think, 
that a son of God is one who has no human father ; 
that has nothing to do with it ; but " so many as are 
led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.^J 
Here is Jesus, who is ready to be led by the Spirit of 
God, who sees, in his ecstasy, the Spirit of God de- 
scending out of the open heavens to guide him, and 
who accepts that guidance, and thus knows that he is 
the Son of God. For the acceptance of the Spirit to 
abide with him brings the voice, " Thou art my be- 
loved Son." 

I think we do not measure the greatness of the faith 
of Jesus, if we look upon him as a supernatural being. 


We do not follow him into the wilderness, to his temp- 
tation, and find him making a real conquest there, 
if at the same time we behold in him the superhu- 
man will displacing the human. We shall have some- 
thing to go by, and a hold will be established upon 
our sympathies, if we see him bearing the temptations 
which befall us human beings, and cannot befall God. 
That which distinguishes Jesus has been made to be 
some fact, or assumed fact, in his physical nature. It 
has been held in the dearest regard that he was phys- 
ically the Son of God, and that he was anointed with 
the oil of gladness above his fellows because he had 
no human father. It was the conviction of some 
one, whose words have come down to us, that he was 
anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows, 
that he had his distinguishing superiority because he 
loved righteousness and hated iniquity. That turns 
our attention upon his inward experiences, rather 
than upon his physical ancestry. A man loves and 
hates ; if he loves what he ought to love, and hates 
what he ought to hate, he has that superiority above 
his fellows which cannot but be recognized. Such an 
one has a claim upon us : he is made a real authority 
to us. Such a man becomes God's voice to us. His 
inward experience, his inward light, his inward love 
and hatred, — these are of supreme importance $ but 
his earthly father is not of importance/) 

(Now since Jesus felt the presence of the Spirit of 
God, and heard the voice of the Father, addressing 
him as So*n, he went about his work always with that 
consciousness. He would not have been true to him- 
self, if he had not always asserted his divine sonship. 
He would not have had a mission to men, unless he 
had the divine mission. Less than all could he have 


taught his disciples to pray to the Father in heaven, 
except he himself felt in all the feelings of his being 
that God was his Father. His mission was based on 
that conviction. He came into contact with the multi- 
tudes, and to them he spake as the Spirit moved. He 
did not tell all to them. He came in contact with the 
religious, the scribes, the pharisees, the priests. He 
spake to them also as moved by the Spirit, but he did 
not tell all to them. By word of mouth, by manner, 
and by the meaning of all that he said, he was always 
affirming his sonship to God. He went farther than 
that, and affirmed that he and his Father were one. 
Then the Jews picked up stones to throw at him. He 
was a blasphemer because he said that, they thought. 
He referred them to their own Scriptures, in which 
they professed to believe so thoroughly, and showed 
them that if the word of God came to anybody, it 
raised such an one up to divinity. If anybody could 
listen to God, as he had been listening to God, he would 
be able to say, " I am a son of God." In fact, he could 
not say otherwise and be true. 

In a general way, all Christendom has taken up this 
word " Father " and applied it to God. But Christen- 
dom has never used the term boldly ; it has been emp- 
tied of most of its meaning, when it has been applied 
to God. We have repeatedly been told, and with many 
warnings, that when Jesus applied the word " Father " 
to God, it meant something very different from what 
we must mean when we apply it to God. We must 
not dare to apply it as he did. We must first pull 
the very heart of its meaning out of it, and be exceed- 
ingly humble when we use it, and confess that Jesus was 
the Son of God in a sense impossible to any one else ; 
he was the Son of God in the sense that he was an 


equal person in the divine Trinity. He was always 
equal with God, because, except for a provisional hu- 
miliation of him, for the purposes of redemption, he 
was the eternal God, in proper person. What are we, 
worms of the dust, and creatures of a day, that we 
should dare for a moment to use the word of intimate 
relationship as he used it ? We must use the word in 
another sense, — a sense bereft of the great meaning 
which Jesus put into it. Jesus had no human father. 
God was his father. But we have human fathers, 
therefore God is not our father, in the same sense. 
Jesus is reported to^have said a very curious thing in 
this connection : ^ Call no man your father, on the 
earth; for one is your Father, the heavenly." He 
did not call any man on earth his father ; and on one 
occasion he refused to call any woman on earth his 
mother. We do not therefore affirm that he had no 
mother. If his friends had understood him, and de- 
clined to call any man on earth their father, but to 
call God their Father, we should not therefore infer 
that they were without human parentage. 

It is evident that Jesus affirmed his relationship 
with God in very positive words: he affirmed with 
equal strength the potential co-relationship of other 
men with him. This last teaching, however, seems to 
have been lost sight of, while the first teaching, falling 
into the ground of a gross age, — not more gross than 
other ages, but certainly not a spiritual age, — devel- 
oped the plant of the story of the birth of Jesus from 
a virgin. This story had not developed in the time 
of Mark, or if it had, he did not credit it. It came 
to flower in the account of Luke. Luke faithfully 
gathers not only such elements of the matter as had 
grown in the Christian imagination in a prose form, 


but also certain poems in which the Christian imagi- 
nation had manifested itself. 

Before examining Luke's account, it were well to 
note that earlier account which bears the name of Mat- 
thew. It is much briefer, and it bases the popular 
ideas of past occurrences, or the truth of them, upon 
the sayings of the prophets long before. A thorough 
Jew seems to have been the writer of Matthew's 
account, — one who delighted in genealogies, and who 
weighed the words of the prophets somewhat after the 
manner of the rabbins. To him the proof of the truth 
of that imagination, which had grown up since the 
death of Jesus, lay with the prophets. In particular, 
one of the great prophets had foretold the birth of a 
son, to be called Immanuel, to a virgin. But that this 
was a forced way of reading the prophets is at once 
visible, if one will take the trouble to read the par- 
ticular prophecy for himself. At one time a certain 
Ahaz was king of Judah ; and against him arose the 
king of Israel and the king of Syria. They went 
up to Jerusalem to lay siege to it. The king of Ju- 
dah was in much disturbance of mind because of this 
coalition against him, and a prophet was sent by the 
word of the Lord to talk with him and comfort him, 
and assure him that the danger would be averted. So 
the prophet bids Ahaz not to be faint-hearted because 
" of the two tails of the smoking fire-brands," as he 
calls the two armies. Then the Lord said to Ahaz, 
" Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God ; ask it either 
in the depth or in the height above." Ahaz declined 
to ask a sign. Then the prophet said, "The Lord 
himself shall give you a sign ; behold a virgin shall 
conceive and shall bear a son, and shall call his name 
Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he 


may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. 
For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and 
choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be 
forsaken of both her kings." Now we should suppose, 
if Matthew had not quoted this passage in a prophecy, 
to prove that Jesus was born of a virgin, that the 
prophet meant that before a new-born child should 
know the difference between good and evil, the dan- 
ger which threatened Judah would surely be averted. 
When we know that the word " virgin " is sometimes 
applied, not literally, but to young women, whether 
married or unmarried, the statement of the prophet 
reduces to this word of promise addressed to King 
Ahaz. The child was to be born soon, and before the 
child should be able to discern between good and evil, 
the deliverance should come. Now to take a state- 
ment out of its context and make it fit a case in hand 
may be rabbinical, but it is not safe. If the author 
of Matthew's Gospel had given the context, he would 
have been obliged to date the birth of Jesus in the 
time of Ahaz, king of Judah. For the sign was 
offered to Ahaz, and before the child could know the 
difference between good and evil, Ahaz would be out 
of his difficulty. Here, as in other places, we may 
conclude that the Spirit'of God taught Matthew a new 
use of prophecy ; or that because Matthew did distort 
a statement of Isaiah, the seal of divine approval is 
put upon such distortion ; but if we proceed to read 
the Bible without discriminating so plain an error in 
judgment, on the part of the evangelist, we are not 
likely to read any portion of the Bible with great 
profit.; Because, as we have already seen, the Bible, 
being the most important of all literature, demands 
our most careful discrimination and our best judg- 
ment. "^ 


Matthew embodies in his account of the childhood 
of Jesus the story of the slaughter of infants in Beth- 
lehem, and refers to a prophecy, of which this slaugh- 
ter was the fulfillment. He also tells us that Joseph 
and Mary take the young child down into Egypt to 
escape the power of Herod. This journey of the holy 
family, he tells us, was in fulfillment of a prophecy 
which says, " Out of Egypt have I called my son." 
Now the only distinct statement of prophecy to any 
such effect is found in Hosea. Turning to that, we 
read these words : " When Israel was a child, then I 
loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." The 
manner of the prophetic utterance is such that the 
unprejudiced reader at once recognizes Israel as the 
son referred to in the prophecy. Israel, in its child- 
hood as a race, was in Egypt and held in a bitter 
bondage there, as all the traditions of Israel affirmed. 
Jehovah had mercy on the enslaved people, called 
Israel his son, broke the bondage, and brought the 
people out of Egypt. Now the writer who could 
apply that language to the flight of the parents of 
Jesus into Egypt proves himself lacking in the appre- 
hension of the prophets. Possibly he had taken les- 
sons from the rabbins, or a class of them, and regarded 
the prophets as puzzle-makers, instead of teachers of 
God and righteousness. 

^--If we read the Bible with the kind of attention we 
give other books, — that is, with critical attention, or 
in the use of free judgment, — then it will be impos- 
sible not to see the very peculiar character of some of 
the stories of the infancy of Jesus, told us in the first 
Gospel. There are magi in the East, — three wise 
men, learned in astrology, who see the star of a king 
in the sky. There is no difficulty in identifying such 


sight as belonging to astrology. These three magi fol- 
low the star, which seems to move before them, until 
it comes to stand over where the young child is. Since 
astronomy has replaced astrology, and has become a 
sober science, it is generally understood that our birth 
under this or that planet or star, and the influence 
thereof upon our destiny, is purely visionary ; or that 
it belongs, to ignorant superstition, by pandering to 
which, pretenders extract money from victims. The 
story of the star in the east is beautiful and instruc- 
tive as a poem, but it does not appear to belong to 
the realm of prose facts. We may see in it the plant 
which grew up after the death of Jesus. To pay divine 
honors to the Son of God, the King of Israel and of 
the world, made the composition of such legends neces- 
sary, at the time. We have an affectional interest in 
these legends, but they do not satisfy our judgment. 

Luke is very different from the writer of the first 
Gospel. He is not so wedded to Judaism. He does 
not find so much in the prophets of Israel. His oc- 
cupation and his travel abroad among other people 
broaden his ideas. Therefore he omits the tales of 
Matthew, perhaps classing them with those more un- 
trustworthy accounts, of which there were many. He 
accepts Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. That 
has become firmly rooted in the Jewish-Christian 
mind. Bethlehem was the place for a prince of the 
house of David to be born ; therefore Jesus was born 

But we have in Luke the poetry and prose which 
grew up concerning the events preceding the birth 
of Jesus and John. Their mothers meet, and have a 
conversation together. A portion of this conversa- 
tion is carried on in a very high strain of poetry. To 


talk in poetry implies the employment of the dramatic 
art. Both women, if we make history out of it, have 
studied their respective parts, and committed them to 
memory, as do players who go upon the stage. To 
suppose any such thing as that is beneath the dignity 
of the subject. When we looked into the book of 
Job, in the Old Testament, we saw plentiful evidence 
that we were reading a dramatic poem, with epilogue 
and prologue, — and not history. Why should we fail 
to discriminate here also in the story of the two mo- 
thers, the poetry of the poet, and not the actual talk 
of two women of Israel ? The very fact that we find 
the poetry, and that it is set in the connection in which 
it is, ought to show us that we are not reading history, 
but poetry. 

We have been very anxious to differentiate be- 
tween Jesus and other men. We have been solici- 
tous to make for him a rank above that of any other 
being in the universe, except One. In that we depart, 
I am sure, from his spirit. Not only so ; in making 
for him a physical difference from other men, we have 
been in danger of losing sight of the real difference. 
That is a moral and a spiritual difference, and not 

a physical one. 

" Being Son of God 
By eminence of manhood," — 

as Sir Edwin Arnold puts it, is not being Son of God 
by having no real manhood. We have all the time 
been assured that Jesus was true and proper man, but 
we have been required to believe also in his virgin 
birth, which, if it means anything whatever, means that 
he was not and could not have been true and proper 

Probably there is a much better statement of the 


divinity of Christ to be made than that which grew 
up in the tale of his birth from a virgin. It is to be 
made in terms of moral character, and not in terms 
of physical structure. That story did grow, as any 
student can see ; and it became the plant of the idea. 
The plant grew and flourished, has now apparently 
come to its harvest time, and if we love the plant, 
rather than the seed-truth of it, it is probable we 
shall not seek and find the truth of the matter, which 
alone is of value. ,~ 

Stories of the infancy of Jesus were written and 
read, but the wise counsel of the early church dictated 
that these stories be not received into the sacred canon. 
It may have been well that the first and third Gos- 
pels were not pruned of similar stories, and that the 
doctrine of the divinity of Christ should have been 
permitted to come to us in a form which is actually 
repugnant to its nature. Whatever was best in the 
past, it becomes evident that we do not need the story 
of the virgin birth for the future, and for three rea- 
sons : — 

1. It rests on exceedingly slender foundation. 

2. It departs from the teaching of the Scriptures, 
which affirm the divinity of man, as man. 

3. It shuts us out of sharing the divinity and char- 
acter and life of the Son of God, and renders fellow- 
ship with him in his mission and sacrifice a dream, and 
not a practical experience. 



The study of the making of the Bible involves a 
consideration of the subject of miracles, which ob- 
trudes itself persistently in our own time. Whatever 
may be the standpoint of the observer, it is abundantly 
evident that a change of mind is going on, with more 
or less rapidity, throughout the intelligent portion of 
the Christian world in regard to miracles. This may 
be a change for the better, or, as the ultra-conserva- 
tive think, a change for the worse ; but whether for 
better or worse, time will definitely decide. Enough 
for us to know that the change is going on, and ceases 
not to go on from day to day. 

It was only recently said by a thoughtful teacher in 
one of our great universities, who has achieved a wide 
reputation as a philosophical thinker, that religion 
may be said to have already manifested itself in two 
ages, — the age of cult, that is of ritual, and the age 
of dogma ; but that another age has supervened, — the 
age of the meaning of things, the age of a philosophi- 
cal or rational religion. That age is no longer future, 
but in sober fact is the present. As to whether the 
world will lose and religion will be damaged by the 
transition, many seem to be in a state of suspended 
opinion. It is the idea of most of the Protestants 
that the day of miracles is over, and that no miracles 
now happen. It was the idea of the late Cardinal 


Newman that the Protestants were in serious error 
concerning that matter. Miracles as well attested as 
any, according to Newman, have occurred in recent 
periods, and some are perhaps happening at present. 
The Protestants reject these modern miracles. The 
issue between them and the Roman Catholics is a 
serious one. Some Protestants are advancing to an- 
other position, which promises to still further widen 
the breach, — to the position that miracles have not 
happened. Among the Catholics the excellence of 
a miracle is believed in so much that they desire as 
many as possible. Among the Protestants, on the 
contrary, the effort has been, and now is, to have as 
few miracles as possible connected with their religion. 
We must try to explain everything that can be ex- 
plained thus, on natural grounds. 

That of itself shows, more than arguments, that a 
miracle is felt to be a weakness, a something which 
may prove of damage to us, in the maintenance of 
its verity. Thus our scholars accept miracles in the 
Bible, so far as they feel they must, but they continu- 
ally decrease their number. In the early part of this 
century, it was universally held by religious persons of 
all sects that the history of the world began in a stu- 
pendous miracle. Out of the heights of eternal space, 
God spake creative words, and the earth sprang into 
being, obediently. Until the work was finished a 
succession of miracles followed each other. The earth 
and the heaven began in a miracle, compared with 
which all other recorded wonders are as pebbles to 
mountains. \ It may safely be said that the stupendous 
miracle has been abandoned by almost all intelligent 
people, and that largely because a way of creation has 
been ascertained which does not require miracle, and 


intelligence has welcomed the discovery almost with 
enthusiasm.^ That God, or that being whom religion 
calls God, as the philosophers say, created the heavens 
and the earth, is as strongly affirmed as it ever was. 
Indeed, the affirmation is now made with immense 
confidence. But that God created the heavens and 
the earth miraculously is not affirmed with any confi- 
dence at all. 

That is the change which has come about in our 
own century, with respect to miracles. A miracle 
greater than all others combined, a miracle which is 
attested by plain words of the Bible, has been given 
up, so that the defense of it is made, for the most part, 
by religious persons of limited intelligence. We are 
told that it is not necessary to believe that miracle. 
By those who strenuously maintain that we must 
believe certain other miracles, it is admitted that we 
can go free from belief in that one. Yet if we dis- 
credit the great miracle of Genesis, as we now are 
permitted to do by common consent, there are other 
miracles which confront us later in the Bible. There 
is the standing still of the sun at the command of a 
captain of Hebrew soldiers. Look at it how we may, 
we are unable to see that it is any easier of credence 
than the miracle of the creation. Of course we do not 
need to set limits to almightiness. When we take the 
liberty of doubting a story, it is not because we wish 
to diminish the power of God. I Certain inhabitants of 
Ireland used to think that on St. Patrick's day the 
sun, after it had risen, always made two or three bows, 
in honor of the saint. ) This strange habit of the sun, 
however, has been obscured to the vision of most 
people because upon St. Patrick's day clouds always 
cover the horizon. The bow is made, but mortal eyes 


cannot see it on account of the clouds. If any one 
doubts the fact, as probably we all do, it is not because 
we would set limits to the power of God ; but because 
it is somehow obnoxious to our sense of the fitness of 
things, obnoxious to reason and judgment. For that 
reason we do not give a moment's attention to the 
subject. Why is not the obeisance of the sun on the 
birthday of St. Patrick quite as credible as the stand- 
ing still of the sun at the command of a Hebrew mili- 
tary officer ? If we reject the one, we are in a fair 
way to reject the other. 

In the same way the voyage of a prophet inside a 
great fish, not of the cetacean order, as we are told, — 
a voyage continued three days, with the ultimate land- 
ing of the prophet at his destination, — cannot com- 
mand our respect. We do not wish to doubt God, 
because we doubt the story of such a miracle. Per- 
haps it is because we are beginning to believe in God, 
and in the laws of God, as governing in nature, that 
we doubt the miracle of Jonah. There are many 
other things of a similar sort which attract our atten- 
tion as we go on reading the Bible. They were all 
accepted in the belief of the Christian world not very 
long ago ; now they are being more and more doubted, 
if not positively disbelieved. 

Professor Green, of Princeton, says : " The whole 
of English-speaking Christendom is upon the eve of 
an agitation upon the vital and fundamental question 
of the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, such 
as it has never known before. The divinity and au- 
thority of the Scriptures have heretofore been defended 
against the outside world of unbelievers, infidels, and 
skeptics ; but the question is now raised, and the su- 
preme authority of the Scriptures contested within the 


church itself. In the controversies which have agitated 
the churches of Great Britain and of this country 
heretofore, the infallible authority of Scripture has 
been admitted as the ultimate test of doctrine by all 
contending parties. All made their appeal to this 
standard. The settlement of every question depended 
upon its interpretation, or upon inferences fairly 
deducible from it. But now the standard itself is 
brought into question. Utterances which fill the air 
on every side, and are borne to us from every quarter, 
— from professors' chairs, from pulpits, from the re- 
ligious press, — show abundantly that the burning 
question of the age is not, What does the Bible teach ? 
It is one yet more radical and fundamental : What is 
the Bible ? In what sense is it the word of God ? " 1 
The great agitation upon a burning question is at bot- 
tom a question of the validity of miracles. The world 
was not made miraculously, as we generally admit. 
Then was the Bible made miraculously ? That is the 
burning question. It bids fair to obtrude itself until 
answered rationally. 

The infallibility of the Bible being established, it 
is a miraculous book; but the infallibility of it is 
questioned on all hands. The rise of the study of 
geology made a sufficient cause for the rejection of the 
miracle of creation ; the rise of other studies, those 
critical studies of the composition of the Bible, and the 
proper stratification of the various portions, will prob- 
ably lead to the rejection of the dogma of the infal- 
libility of the Bible. That is to say, the earth, which 
may be said to be the revelation of God in physics, 
being looked upon as not miraculous, much more the 

1 Moses and the Prophets, Professor Green's Review of Professor 
Robertson Smith. 


book which is the chief revelation of God in moral 
and spiritual laws, will cease to be looked upon as 
miraculous. The tendency of religious thought, as 
testified to by our Princeton professor, is toward the 
elimination of the miraculous. It is religious thought 
which has come into the field of conflict, not to crush 
the arguments of skeptics and unbelievers, but to 
affirm the reign of law throughout the universe. 

While the tendency is what it is, it must not be 
supposed that the matter is one to settle offhand. The 
modification of thought may involve the use of old 
words in a new meaning. It is possible that the word 
" miracle " will take on a significance which it has not 
possessed. It is possible that we shall presently apply 
the word to the wonderful and the mysterious in 
nature, rather than to the irruption of supernatural 
powers within the scope of nature, to change or break 
the laws of nature. Perhaps it were well also to 
examine anew this very word " nature " itself, to see 
what its history has been. It is not to be supposed 
that ancient people had a clear idea of nature, or that 
they had any sharply defined limits in mind when they 
spoke of it. There was an apprehension of two kinds 
of activity in operation. The English people of the 
Middle Ages were sure of two kingdoms which inter- 
acted. The procession of seasons and days, and the 
commonplace events which were regularly repeated at 
proper intervals, — these belonged to one department ; 
the priest, and above all the magician, had dealings 
with the other department. No one doubted the 
prevalence of enchantments. There were ogres and 
giants, and other semi-supernatural beings. There 
were witches. That is to say, there was an invasion 
of the powers of the unseen world. Good spirits and 


evil spirits contended for the mastery in the world. 
In the unseen world the laws or methods were dif- 
ferent from those of the seen world. The magician 
drew strange figures, and uttered strange words in his 
enchantments. In order to effect anything, he must 
be trained in occult science ; that is, he must learn 
the ways of the invisible world. In time these two 
worlds came to be distinguished as nature and the 

The world of nature has been growing larger con- 
tinually, and more heed has been paid to it and the 
laws of it. The other world has been losing ground. 
We have, for the most part, dismissed magic and en- 
chantment, and ogres and nymphs and witches and 
the like, from our thoughts. The result is that 
" nature " has become an exceedingly comprehensive 
term. Things which once seemed to belong outside 
of nature are now comprehended in its scope. The 
feeling has been growing apace that nature is coex- 
tensive with the universe. We do not need two terms, 
because one will answer our purpose. Yet nature con- 
tains vastly more which is unknown to us, and per- 
haps unknowable by us, than did both nature and the 
supernatural to the ancient man. Nature is full of 
mystery, but we feel that it is, so to speak, a regulated 
mystery, a mystery of laws rather than a mystery of 
the infraction of laws. 

Now, to some minds, possibly, such a view of nature 
entirely excludes God. There is really no such ex- 
clusion. On the contrary, by that dismissal of witches, 
enchanters, and all of that order, which has occurred, 
we have really made room for God, or rather we have 
come to recognize, some in one way and some in an- 
other, the presence of God. The superhuman beings 


which crowded the world ages ago have vanished, 
having become supernumerary. They are not required 
so soon as we have made discovery of the presence 
of the One Power in which we all live and move and 
have our being. A child looking reflectively at our 
streets, seeing the great buildings of solid material on 
both sides, some of them towering toward the sky, and 
all of them of substantial material, effectively resist- 
ing our stroke, would conclude that matter is always 
of that solid and resisting quality. He would say that 
the space between the buildings is empty of matter. 
Here, he would say, is material, and there is vacancy 
of matter. He is mistaken. Every apparent space 
between the buildings is packed full of matter, — so 
full of it that not the smallest fraction of a cubic inch 
is devoid of it. We have matter in different states of 
density, but it is everywhere. That which is invisible 
to us is not therefore non-existent. More than that, 
because of that matter, which packs all places which 
seem to be empty, beings constituted as we are can 
live. Without it we could not live. 

There is, however, somewhat else than matter in 
nature. We call it force. Some manifestations of it 
are everywhere present. We assume the existence of 
force everywhere, because all of the universe of which 
we can get any knowledge is in motion. The stars 
flit in their courses, and whole groups of worlds move 
together in a rhythmical way. Moreover, we are 
sure that the force which is manifested at the farthest 
visible star is identical with that which holds us to the 
ground. There is a force in the ocean currents and 
tides, in the atmospheric storms, and in the light and 
heat of the sun. There is a force in the growth of the 
plant, and in the living bodies of fishes and other ani- 


mals, and in inorganic matter ; everywhere force. 
Now, while we know something of force, we do not 
know all ; this is what we have been learning through 
painful and slow ages, namely, that force operates in 
certain ways, which we call laws. We have come to the 
practical conclusion that each force moves in accord- 
ance with the laws which we have studied out. Grav- 
ity, for instance, is uniform. We cannot prove that 
gravity operates in every portion of the universe, as it 
does here on the earth and in our planetary system, 
but we are very sure that it does. 

It is to be remembered that the ancients, those who 
wrote the different parts of the Bible, did not know 
what we know. They had no idea of the reign of law, 
therefore their explanation of phenomena was not 
such as we would give now. They thought it perfectly 
reasonable that God should make an exception in any 
law of nature when he pleased. Whenever there was 
a proper time for an exception, they supposed, of 
course, that the exception was made. If a man was 
in prison, locked securely there, and God wanted him 
to get out, it was perfectly easy for God to send an 
angel, and the angel did not have to pick the lock or 
open it with a key, because angels are not subject to 
laws : the angel could open any door, and take any 
one out of prison. Inasmuch as an apostle had been 
put in prison, and had escaped from it, in after years 
they gave the explanation that God had sent an angel. 
God could always do this and that, if the exigency 
called for it. Since the necessity arose often, it was 
natural to suppose that God did take measures en- 
tirely outside of the laws of nature. 

If a multitude of people were hungry, and food 
was inaccessible to them, it was quite in keeping with 


God's ways to make a large number of bushels of 
bread out of a few small loaves. We have found, if 
we have found anything, that just such things are en- 
tirely out of keeping with God's ways. The writers 
of the Bible did not know enough of God's ways to 
prevent them from making mistakes. Millions upon 
millions of people have starved because they did not 
have bread. It is related that Jesus had compassion 
on the multitudes who followed him out into the des- 
ert. Because he had compassion, he enlarged a few 
loaves of bread into food for some thousands of peo- 
ple ; but Jesus was no more compassionate than God 
is. His compassion tells us of the compassion of 
God. God has permitted multitudes, just as worthy 
of compassion as that Galilean multitude, to go with- 
out food. 

He has permitted people to be shut up in prison just 
as the Apostle Peter was. He has not sent angels to 
open the doors for them. Tens of thousands of people 
have been in slavery of the most cruel sort. They 
have pined for deliverance. Their condition has made 
a strong appeal to God's compassion, but God has not 
delivered them. He could have delivered, if power is 
all that is required: he could have sent cohorts of 
angels: he could have dissolved their chains. The 
fact for us to consider is that he did not so act ; or 
we may sum it all up in a single proposition, namely, 
it was within the scope of God's power, as we suppose, 
to make our race perfect at the outset, and to keep 
it perfect, and then no wickedness and no starvation 
and no cruel inhumanity would ever have stained our 
human annals. 

According to modern philosophy as understood by 
the theist, our Creator does not create such a being as 


man from without, by a kind of plastic art, but from 
within, and by development. Man must grow to his 
manhood. The race must grow to its consummation 
and destiny. Man must learn his lesson as a race. 
He shall become perfect only through suffering.) He 
must bear his hunger ; he must learn to supply it. 
However desirable it must seem to us at times that 
God should make an interference in our behalf, and 
break some laws of nature, the very lesson we are set 
to learn is that of obedience to the laws. It is by 
obedience, cost what that may, that we reach our 
estate and accomplish our destiny. The divine inter- 
ferences were always supposed by the ancients. They 
prayed and sacrificed to obtain them. To learn the 
great lesson of obedience was beyond them. Now, 
obedience is better than all of these supposed inter- 
ferences. The law of God, the great comprehensive 
law of creation, which has been opened to us in recent 
times, converts our soul to the thought of the presence 
of God at all times and under all circumstances. If 
we are in prison, God is not absent from us ; and 
if we are delivered in any wise from captivity, that is 
God's work. It is not the work of secondary beings, 
— though they may be concerned in it, — but it is the 
work of God. 

What the writers of the Gospels did not know, 
through our increased knowledge of God's great laws 
we do know. With that knowledge comes a far 
greater revelation than was possible in the past. (In 
place of divine interference, the newer revelation sub- 
stitutes divine presence. In other words, the revela- 
tion of to-day is so much greater, so far grander, than 
that of the past, that we may say of it that God ceases 
to be an occasional visitor, or a mere governor of angels 


and other forces, by becoming involved in every part 
of creation. The few miracles are replaced by the 
fact, greater than all miracles. 

The fuller revelation of to-day, a revelation which 
is coming in volumes of demonstration, will of course 
be resisted, as all fuller revelations always have been. 
So resisted they the old revelation, and so their fa- 
thers resisted the still older revelation. 

We have the story of Jesus' life and teachings 
woven in the web of a miraculous narrative. At first 
glance it seems to be impossible to detach the mira- 
cle from the teaching or the conduct of Jesus and 
have anything left. That is what we have been told 
over and over again ; that if we are going to dispense 
with the miracles, we must also dispense with the 
teachings ; that if the body of Jesus was not raised 
from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, after the 
death of Jesus, then the whole matter resolves into 
mere fable unworthy of any confidence. This we are 
told, not by enemies of the Christian religion, but by 
its professed friends. So was it said before the days 
of geology, in regard to the account of creation, and 
even since those days. 

There was a lesson of Jesus which might have an 
application here. It cannot be too much insisted upon 
that such things as the fate of a physical body after 
its death are not a subject of religion, but of physical 
science. The enemies of Jesus tried to entangle 
him in his talk. They asked about paying tribute. 
" Ought we to pay tribute to Caesar, or no ? " He called 
for a piece of money, and asked what mark was upon 
it. " Caesar's image and superscription," he was told. 
Then he said, " Render to Caesar the things which are 
Caesar's, and to God the things which are God's." 


Science in our later days has been taking many things 
out of the domain of religion and placing them in 
its own field. It has put its image and superscrip- 
tion upon them. We may render therefore to science 
the things which belong to science, and to religion the 
things which belong to religion. 

There is something in which Biblical scholarship 
has so far made little or no progress, and that is in 
respect to that core or vital element of truth which ac- 
counts of miracles inclose. As before suggested, we 
have by no means fully explored the domain of nature, 
nor have we yet measured man's power in that do- 
main. We catch vague hints of the existence of 
powers which elude our satisfactory examination. 
The scope of the mind, the agencies it employs, and 
the strange effects it may produce, have their limits, 
but we do not know precisely where to place them. 
In respect to these strange occurrences, of which we 
occasionally see accounts in the newspapers, it is 
necessary that they be attested in the strongest pos- 
sible way, and by persons who know the difference 
between the natural and the unnatural. Now, one 
trouble with the miracles recorded in the Bible is that 
they have no scientific evidence. They are told us, 
not by eye-witnesses, and not by persons who know 
anything, beyond the common, of a natural order. So 
far as the form of them is concerned, we may fearlessly 
render them to the scientific Caesar to whom they 
belong. So far as their moral and religious inner 
meaning is concerned, that is something for us to gain 
a knowledge of as our light becomes greater. 



In nothing is assured verity so important as in re- 
ligion. So far as possible, we require certainty in the 
most important interests ; and, rightly understood, 
there is no interest more important than religion. If 
our religion depends upon that which can have no 
verification in this stirring age of the world, we are 
likely to be left with a religion in the air, unfounded, 
or a superstition. 

The reactions from superstition are deplorable. It 
happens often that one discovers his religion to be 
incapable of verification, and on the whole quite bar- 
ren to him, and he not only leaves it, but abandons 
the very idea of religion ; all religion is classified as 
superstition. That is a deplorable reaction, from 
which it behooves us to be on our guard, because, 
while there is no more ground for abandoning religion 
because some religion is superstitious than for aban- 
doning medical practice because some medical practice 
is quackery, yet multitudes do proceed upon such in- 
sufficient ground to the abandonment of religion as 
worthless, and without stopping to consider that a true 
religion is of first necessity to moral beings. /A coun- 
terfeit bill ought to render us the more careful, not to 
reject all bills, but to qualify ourselves to discern be- 
tween genuine bills and counterfeits. 

In order to give us that assured verity so necessary 


in religion, we have been advised that God has given us 
an infallible standard of truth, and that this infallible 
standard is the Bible. So far good. It is the thing we 
require, and the thing we require is presented to us ; 
but is the infallible standard, of which we may be sure 
that it is entirely trustworthy in all particulars, a some- 
thing which may leave us in the air, without a founda- 
tion ? How do we know that the Bible is an infallible 
standard ? We are told so by certain religious newspa- 
pers, and by certain teachers of religion, and in certain 
books which have credit among a limited constituency \j 
We are told so ; but if we seek assured verity, if 
we are as anxious for verification as we ought to be 
in so serious a matter, we ought not to be satisfied by 
being told so. Religious newspapers have made mis- 
takes, and perhaps in some instances might even ac- 
knowledge their fallibility. So of religious teachers, 
and books of a limited credit. Perhaps they all make 
mistakes. If so, possibly this assertion that the Bible 
is an infallible standard of truth is one of their mis- 
takes. In so important an interest we ought not to 
rest on the fallible testimony of fallible men for ade- 
quate proof of the infallibility of a standard. , Profes- 
sor Shedd, a man of note in the religious world, tells 
us that the doctrine of his church is to this effect, 
namely, that the Bible is supreme in authority over 
the church and the reason, and free from error as it 
originally came from God, its author ; that the Biblical 
miracles could not have been wrought by the operation 
of natural laws and forces ; that no decree of God is 
ever changed, and no prediction of his fails of fulfill- 
ment ; that man was created positively holy, and not 
merely negatively innocent, etc. This is the opinion 
of a religious man of note, and he says that it is the 


opinion of the religious denomination to which he be- 
longs, as expressed in their symbols. Does this man 
of note know ? Who told him so ? Is he infallible ? 
Or is his church entirely correct in all matters ? If 
we ask him and his church, they will assuredly con- 
fess with a becoming humility that they are not in- 
fallible. They tell us that the Bible is, but then their 
testimony is insufficient, because they are fallible 
witnesses, and confess that they do make blunders. 
Therefore we have by no means reached the founda- 
tion of the matter, and perforce must go farther and 

Very well, we can go farther than our contempora- 
ries ; we are not compelled to rely upon them : they 
point us back to the reformers. We may readily 
discover that the reformers were compelled to assert 
the infallibility of the Bible as the standard of truth. 
Who and what were the reformers? How did they 
know? They were men of whose excellence, and 
even heroic excellence, we are bound to approve. 
Brave men, learned men, some of them, and in many 
respects able men ; some of them among the greatest 
men produced in the history of the world. Yet who 
told them that the Bible was the infallible standard 
of truth? No one told them so. They arrived at 
the conclusion after debate. There is no question 
that they were largely influenced to their decision 
about the infallible character of the Bible by a ne- 
cessity laid upon them, to maintain their cause. In 
place of infallible church and infallible pope, we must 
have another infallibility, and they decided that the 
Bible was such an infallibility. Were they right in 
this decision ? If they were infallible men, incapable 
of making mistakes, then of course they were right ; 


but they were not infallible men, for they; distinctly 
denied that they were. They denied the infallibility 
of the church. Therefore their testimony must be 
taken with much allowance. We cannot be at all 
sure they were right in this matter, or in other mat- 
ters, unless we can approve their deliverances on 
rational grounds. 

So we are driven back beyond the reformers to 
seek our surety, because we cannot find it in our 
contemporaries, nor can we find it in the reformers. 
That great church from which the reformers re- 
volted does not shed any light upon the subject, be- 
cause it did not teach the doctrine. 1 

There certainly was a time when there was no New 
Testament, when there was a considerable body of 
literature, portions of which were read in the assem- 
blies of the Christians. The Apostle Paul had written 
letters to the saints in various localities. It was nat- 
ural that these letters should be read when the saints 
came together on the first day of the week, and at 
other times. These letters of Paul, like the sermons 
of more modern times, were not thought of as new 
parts of the Bible. Besides the letters, there were 
Christian documents which took a strong hold upon 
the feelings, and greatly stimulated the religious life 
of the Christians. Before anything was decided in re- 
gard to the New Testament, before the New Testament 
was thought of, a great deal of literature was afloat 
in Christian communities. The Christians would no 

1 The Church of Rome recognizes ecclesiastical tradition as of 
coordinate authority with the written records, holding that God's 
"supernatural revelation is contained in the written books, and 
unwritten traditions which have come down to us." Professor 
J. H. Thayer, The Change of Attitude towards the Bible. 


more have dreamed of attaching these writings to the 
Bible, as a part of it, than we would think of making 
a still newer Testament (and binding it in with the 
Bible), composed of the discourses of Schleiermacher, 
Kobertson, Spurgeon, and Beecher. 

The time came when the idea of the New Testa- 
ment arose. There was plenty of material for it. Just 
as the Hebrews of the older time had attributed to 
Moses a large body of writings, and to the various 
prophets another large body, and had gathered them 
into a collection known as " Moses and the Prophets," 
so it would have been most desirable for the Christians 
of the third century of our era to have had autographs 
of the apostles. How much more desirable to have 
an autograph of Jesus himself ! That was manifestly 
lacking. Mark was not an apostle, but he had been a 
companion of the apostles. Luke was not an apostle, 
but he had been in company with some of the apostles. 
There was a writing which bore the name of Mat- 
thew, and he was an apostle ; another writing which 
bore the name of John, and he was an apostle. There 
were the letters of Paul, who claimed apostleship to 
the Gentiles. There was also a curious book of the 
sort called apocalyptic, similar to that remarkable book 
written during the heroic period of the Maccabees, and 
a large number of other writings, like the Shepherd 
of Hermas, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Acts of 
Pilate, the Protevangelion, the Gospel of the Infancy, 
the Epistle of Barnabas, etc. >, From this considerable 
body of material, judicious selection must be made. 
How can that selection be made but by putting at 
that business the men best fitted to do it ? It would 
be necessary for representative men to meet, and con- 
sider the wishes and feelings of their respective locali- 
ties in regard to the matter. 


A canoD is simply a rule. It is a kind of law. 
Now the laws we have, and the laws all people have 
made, first grow up in the necessities of the case, 
and in the minds and habits of the people. Thus it 
was with this canon. Certain portions of the Chris- 
tian community were particularly fond of some of the 
extant writings. In the west, the Shepherd of Her- 
nias had a strong hold, 1 and the Apocalypse, though 
it found much favor at first, was later regarded with 
disfavor. The Epistle of Jude, the Second of Peter, 
the Second and Third of John, the Epistles of Bar- 
nabas and to the Hebrews, and some others, were re- 
ceived by some and rejected by others. Following the 
example of the Jews in making their sacred canon, it 
became necessary for Christians to make theirs. 

Now, a subject of such great interest would certainly 
be talked over by a vast number of people, and par- 
ticularly by the religious teachers, or the clergy, as we 
now call them. A matter of the kind being thus 
in discussion, a public opinion would gradually grow 
up favorable to certain parts of the Christian literature 
and unfavorable to others. To almost every intelligent 
person, some writings would seem to be better, more 
authentic, and more divine than others. In regard 
to some, all would be practically agreed : as to others, 
there would be wide differences of opinion. Some 
would be universally accepted, some universally re- 
jected from the proposed canon, and some would be 
held in suspended judgment. 

Finally, we will assume that during the fourth cen- 
tury, representatives of the church in various portions 
of the Roman empire come together and make, after 
due deliberation and argument, an official list of the 
1 See note, p. 312. 


books which are to constitute the New Testament. 
They pass a rule that the books which are not included 
in this list shall not be read in the public assemblies 
of the Christians. The last book of our New Testa- 
ment, called the Revelation, they did not include, and 
therefore they made it wrong to read that in the re- 
ligious services of the Christians. It was made wrong 
to read that book in public, because the very same au- 
thority which determined what the New Testament 
was, said that Revelation did not belong to the New 
Testament. We differ from these men, and say uni- 
versally that Revelation is part of the New Testament. 
We read it in public religious service as part of the 
Bible. By so doing we proclaim in act, which speaks 
louder than words, that the men who first decided 
about the New Testament were mistaken in their de- 
cision. They were not infallible. On other ground 
we are persuaded to the same effect: it has never 
been claimed, so far as known, that these men were 
not as liable to mistakes as we are. 

Therefore the doctrine of the infallibility of the 
Scriptures of the New Testament, which has been so 
strongly held, and is to-day so insisted upon by many 
religious teachers, lacks the proper evidence to sustain 
such a doctrine. A sentiment grew up in the early 
Christian centuries ; this sentiment was held by a great 
many fallible men. Representatives of these men, 
chiefly their clergy, met in convention and settled that 
we should accept the list of books they approved, as 
being the New Testament. These were the books to 
be read in the churches. Before that, other books had 
been read, but now these only must be read. I do 
not reject the inspiration of these persons who de- 
cided upon the material for the New Testament; I 


would strongly affirm it. No good work can be done 
in this world apart from the Spirit of God. That the 
work of these inspired men was faultless is reasonably 
to be denied. The history of the occasion justifies us 
in the denial of an infallible outcome from it. Later 
in the history of the world, good men have often met 
for the discussion and decision of religious matters 
of weight. That their discussions and decisions were 
without flaw or fault, all Protestants deny. vWhy one 
council should be singled out as an infallible council 
is more than any reasonable soul can tell. 

What we need in our religion is certainty. It is 
more necessary to us in our religion than in our other 
interests ; but certainty that the Bible is infallible is 
the one thing inaccessible to us. On the contrary, the 
certainty is, that there is no proof of the infallibility 
of the Bible. If any man of eminence assures us that 
the Bible is infallible and in all its portions true, we 
may believe him, because we respect his character ; but 
in order that our confidence in him may be justified, 
we ought to make a sure discovery of absolute truth in 
him, not only as respects his honest intention, but also 
as respects his information, and his ability to grasp 
such a subject. For infallibility is a very great mat- 
ter, and the fallibility of man is an accepted belief of 
all men. 

What shall we do with the Bible if we find that it 
is not an infallible standard ? Shall we throw it away? 
That will doubtless be the first impulse of many. 
Those who have regarded the Bible as an infallible 
standard of truth, and have not much acquaintance 
with its contents, discovering that they were mistaken 
about it, will perhaps throw it away, f That will be 
because they have never been acquainted with its true 


value, but only with an assumed and a fictitious value. 
I venture to say that those who have become ac- 
quainted with its spirit and value — the revelation of 
it — will never throw it away. For the proof of the 
truth of the New Testament lies in itself. There is a 
certainty, a practical certainty, which, if we are sincere 
and simple-minded, is readily accessible to us. Only 
those things which are axiomatic are practically cer- 
tain. After the axioms are found, only those deduc- 
tions from them which are accordant with them can be 
called valid. Mathematics and logic have their ax- 
ioms. We begin with axioms : they are fundamental. 
Religion has its axioms. All axioms are simple. The 
axioms that a whole is greater than any of its parts, 
and that a whole is equal to the sum of its parts, ap- 
peal to us. When once they are understood, there is 
no getting away from them. The books or scriptures 
in which they are written may all be burned; they 
remain, our inalienable possession. They are properly 
to be called infallible. There is no fault in them. 
They are verities, and the things which properly grow 
out of them are our practical certainties, -^v^ 

I take it that Jesus was the most axiomatic of any 
religious speaker in the history of the world. He 
does not seem to have argued very much, perhaps 
because he busied himself in laying the axiomatic 
foundation. Now, the axioms of Jesus are so arranged 
by the writer of the first Gospel of our New Testament 
that we are confronted by them at the outset. These 
axioms are the very things which, given in a simple 
way, will remain in the minds of men who hear them. 
We do not need any one to confirm us in our accept- 
ance of them. The blessedness of purity of heart, 
for instance, is a truth we are created to feel. If 


the clergy gathered in consultation at Laodicea in 360 
A. D. had set forth that purity of heart is blessed, it 
would not add one atom's weight to the authority of 
the axiom, to one who has understood it. If, on the 
contrary, such a convention should have decided that 
impurity of heart is really blessed, that would destroy 
the axiom for no one who has understood it. That is, 
therefore, one of the certainties of religion ; and out of 
it grow many other practical certainties. The thing is 
infallibly true, whoever said it, or if no one had ever 
said it until now. 

On the other hand, suppose we begin with the gene- 
alogy of Jesus as given in our first account. From 
Abraham to Joseph, the father of Jesus, the number 
of generations is forty. Is this the correct number ? 
In the third account there are forty-one generations. 
If Luke is right, then Matthew has not given a correct 
genealogy of Jesus : it has the fault of leaving out one 
generation, and that is a serious flaw in a genealo- 
gical record. If Matthew is right, then Luke has com- 
mitted the fault of adding a generation. However 
one chooses to explain it, there is a fault somewhere. 
\Now an infallible writer does not commit a fault of 
that kind. A perfectly honest and trustworthy writer 
may. Explanations have been offered, but none of 
them prove satisfactory. What religious difference 
does it make whether there were forty or forty-one 
generations between Abraham and Joseph?) None 
whatever. Therefore, for the purposes of religion, 
the chapter of genealogies might precisely as well be 
stricken out. If we desire genealogical knowledge, 
we cannot acquire it with certainty, because the au- 
thorities, inspired authorities, differ. If we desire re- 
ligious knowledge, that is another matter. The first 


chapter of Matthew contains no religious information 
to impart: also, it contains no sure genealogical in- 

In the fourth Gospel is an account of the first miracle 
performed by Jesus. The first of a series of wonderful 
events would not be likely to be overlooked by writers 
giving an account of a man's mission. Other miracles 
of course might be forgotten, but the first one would 
probably be remembered. This first miracle, however, 
was not heard of by Luke, as he makes his investi- 
gation, or it was not regarded important enough for 
record. The same is true of the other two evangelists. 
From seventy-five to a hundred years after the death 
of Jesus the story of this first miracle is written. Jesus 
went to a wedding in Cana, in Galilee, and the wine 
supply failed. He was one of the guests, his mother 
another. She mentioned to him that the wine was 
gone. Six water -pots, in the customary place, he 
caused to be filled with water. That which was put 
into the water-pots was water, but we are assured that 
what was drawn out of the same vessels was wine. 
It was not only wine in appearance, but it was such 
in reality, and was commended as good wine by the 
steward of the house. 

This is plainly of the magical order ; such things 
are not unfamiliar to the magicians. Now this story 
is absolutely unverifiable. There are really many 
things against it ; but there is nothing for it, except 
that the convention assembled in Laodicea in 360, 
and other conventions, did not prune it out. They 
did prune somewhat ; they rejected writings approved 
by the common consent of a multitude of Christians, 
but they did not leave out that story. Now, if we 
put the utmost reliance upon their judgment, we are 
not proceeding safely. They at least were not in- 


fallible. Then, because the story cannot be verified, 
and because it has but a secondary or illustrative 
connection with religion, why are we not at liberty 
to reject it as a fact ? Why cannot we take it as a 
growth in the latter portion of a period most rife with 
such growths? From the efforts of total abstainers to 
explain that the wine was not intoxicating, we should 
imagine them to be glad if the whole story were out 
of the New Testament. 

There is another story, introduced by the same 
author, which stands by itself, having no reinforcement 
from the earlier writings, and that is the most aston- 
ishing miracle performed by any one. It is the raising 
of Lazarus from death, after he had been entombed 
four days. Thither went Jesus and his disciples, and 
many were said to be the witnesses of the strange 
event. This event is said to have attracted the atten- 
tion of the authorities at Jerusalem, and they under- 
took to kill Lazarus because they feared the influence 
which would accrue to Jesus from so great a proof of 
power. Luke in his investigations failed to reach 
that story. } It was not told in his time, or he surely 
would not have omitted it ; and that is equally true 
of the other evangelists. If, therefore, we seek veri- 
fication of that incident, we fail to find it.) There is 
nothing in the story to commend it to our minds as 
axiomatic. It is not self-verifying. There are truths 
connected with it which are self-verifying. But that 
which is not self- verifying cannot belong to the 
certainties of religion. To my mind, that particular 
Gospel, in which these stories are related, is the 
grandest and most helpful religious book in the world. 
It seems to me to contain more self-verifying truths 
than any other book. The things in it which are 
not capable of verification, except by that pseudo 


method which rests everything on the decision of the 
councils which determined the canon, are to be distin- 
guished from the things which make direct appeal to 
our heart and conscience and reason. 

The things of religion which do not belong to the 
practical certainties are not the things which in these 
times we can safely hold to. We have given a primary 
place to the secondary and unessential things of re- 
ligion. We have regarded these unverifiable matters, 
such as the raising of Lazarus, and the turning of 
water into wine, as truths to stand by and maintain, 
as though they belonged to the religion of Jesus. Now 
they do not, and in the nature of the case cannot, 
belong to the religion of Jesus, but to the religion 
of those writers who failed to understand Jesus. The 
real subject-matter of the religion of Jesus has been 
fatally obscured by common faith in these unverifiable 

I have heard of a woman who kept a little coat, 
worn by her little boy, long after he had grown up 
and was away engaged in the business of the world. 
She loved to look at the little coat, and it was be- 
cause the little boy had worn it, although he had long 
outgrown it. She would sometimes be glad to have 
her little boy back again, and able to wear the little 
coat, but that is impossible. Better is it that it is im- 
possible. I confess to a love for the stories about the 
turning of water into wine, and the raising of Laza- 
rus, because the religion of Jesus has worn, as a gar- 
ment, those legends and others like them. I am per- 
suaded that the religion of Jesus has outgrown such 
garments. It is better so. The lover of the Bible 
will have an affectional interest in the legends, but he 
will see that they are not the garments in which the 
religion of Jesus can practically work. 



Long before any official list of the books which 
constitute the New Testament was made, there were 
catalogues of writings which held a high place in 
Christian esteem. The first list, the authorship of 
which is unknown, contains most of the books in the 
New Testament as we now have it. About the same 
time Irenaeus made a list of a different sort. \ He 
thought that the First Epistle of Peter and the Second 
of John were of doubtful character, and to be ranked 
with the Shepherd of Hermas. He did not consider 
Hebrews, Jude, James, nor Second Peter and Third 
John, worthy of a place in his list. Also Clement of 
Alexandria made a list of superior and inferior books. 
Later, say about the middle of the third century, Ori- 
gen divided the Christian writings into three classes : 
the authentic, the non-authentic, and the doubtful} 
Eusebius, the famous courtier, theologian, and histo- 
rian, made his list about a century later than Origen, 
but agreeing with Origen 's. 1 

But we have the evidence of three ancient copies of 
the New Testament, the most ancient yet discovered. 
The manuscript known as the Sinaitic, which was 
discovered by Tischendorf in 1841 in a convent of 
Mt. Sinai, is reckoned to be of the fourth century, or 
possibly of the fifth. That manuscript includes some 
! See Dr. Gladden's Who Wrote the Bible f p. 318. 


books which we reject, namely, the Epistle of Barna- 
bas, and the Shepherd of Hernias. One of the other 
most ancient manuscripts includes material not con- 
tained in our Bibles. Moreover, when the Reformation 
came on, there was much dispute over portions of the 
contents of the Bible. Some of the prominent re- 
formers rejected the book of Revelation, and others 
felt doubtful about other books. Thus in those far- 
off times of the Reformation, and in those still more 
distant times of the early church, there was a greater 
freedom of judgment in regard to the Bible than our 
conservative teachers would like to accord to us now. 
Whereas, both because we can study the matter under 
a greater light now than was possible formerly, and 
because freedom of judgment in regard to all matters 
whatsoever ought to be greater now than formerly, 
we are advancing to the use of great liberty in our 
opinions concerning the New Testament. The one 
thing of great importance to all Christians at present 
is that according to the best opinions, the different 
books of the Bible have a different value. Some books 
are better than others, and portions of each book are 
better than other portions. For each intelligent reader, 
therefore, the value of a statement is to be tested by 
the individual judgment. 

\ The mere fact that a statement is contained in the 
Bible is no proof of the truth of the statement. We 
are thrust back on a personal responsibility which we 
have not greatly cultivated in religious concerns. It 
is a deficiency in responsibility that makes so many of 
us afraid to think i but a religion which renders us 
afraid to think will surely work us a great mischief^) 

Ordinarily, books are written in the order of their 
chapters. The first chapter is first written, etc : but 


in the Old Testament the book of Genesis, for example, 
was written long after later portions. In the New 
Testament it is equally true that the first books were 
not written first. Without going through the argu- 
ment necessary to establish the truth of the proposition, 
it is generally agreed by scholars, including the conser- 
vative as well as the progressive, that the first letter 
Paul wrote, which remains to us, is his first letter to 
the Thessalonians. As Paul was the first writer of 
the New Testament literature, we have a reasonable 
probability that the part of our New Testament which 
was first thought out and written is this letter, which 
occupies a rather obscure place in the Testament. It 
is estimated by Dean Alford that Paul wrote the First 
Epistle to the Thessalonians in the autumn of the year 
52 of our era. Others put it earlier, but it does not 
signify. Suffice it that the start of the New Testa- 
ment was made by the writing of a letter by an apostle. 
Paul was an apostle, not because he had followed Jesus 
about in Galilee and Judea, and had listened to his 
teachings, but because he had been called to be an 
apostle by the command and voice of God uttered in 
his own soul. ) He obeyed that call, and did not ask 
leave of the other apostles, who had been disciples. 
He did not consult with them about it, for he probably 
knew that they would not consent to such an arrange- 
ment. He took up this work, just as previously he had 
taken up the work of persecution, because he believed 
that God wished him to do it. In the prosecution of 
it he had gone about Asia Minor, visiting various cities 
and planting churches. He had a dream one night, 
as Luke tells us. In his dream he saw a Macedonian, 
and heard his voice imploring the apostle to come over 
to Macedonia. Paul took that as a divine intimation 



that he must cross the sea and plant the new gospel 
among the Greeks. Accordingly he went across the 
sea, and visited Philippi, where he and his companion 
were imprisoned on account of a riot occasioned by 
their visit. Then they went to Thessalonica, where 
there was a Jewish synagogue, and there for the space 
of three weeks Paul preached to the Jews out of their 
Scriptures. The Jews were too tenacious of their 
traditions to give heed to what he said, but there were 
many Greeks who were more tractable, and they 
formed a Christian community. Now Christianity 
was so new to them that all sorts of difficult questions 
would arise in regard to it, after Paul went away. 
There was no such thing as a written gospel to refer 
to. So far as these Greeks knew, there were no books 
bearing upon the subject. Therefore they had discus- 
sions about various things, and did not know what to 
think. They were very much troubled, and word was 
either sent to Paul, or in some manner he heard of 
their state, and wrote them an epistle. 

This letter tells us in general the view of the religion 
of Jesus which Paul gave the Greeks at that place. 
It tells us what Paul's notion of the gospel was at that 
time. This is interesting, not only in itself as a piece 
of information, but it is also much more interesting in 
showing in what a crude way the gospel took form at 
the first. There was one great permanent effect pro- 
duced by Paul and his preaching. The Greeks, who 
had been idolaters, were turned away from idolatry to 
serve a living and true God, instead of the idolatrous 
images. They had also been taught to wait for God's 
Son, who was soon to come from heaven, and this Son 
was none other than Jesus, who had been raised from 
death, and who was the appointed deliverer from the 
wrath to come. 


This was nothing strange at that time. The Jews 
supposed that certain who had died would come back 
again to the earth. They had that expectation iu re- 
gard to the ancient prophet Elijah, although we may- 
suppose that Jesus did not share the expectation. It is 
quite evident, also, that the Jewish Christians expected 
the revival of Nero after his death, and his reinstate- 
ment in imperial power for a time. No doubt the ex- 
pectation of the return of Jesus to set up his kingdom 
and punish his enemies and persecutors and the ene- 
mies of the church was exceedingly comforting to the 
Christians. They were compelled to endure priva- 
tions and the hatred of stubborn Jews ; but all that 
would last only a brief time. The day of judgment, or 
of wrath, was fast approaching ; and they must main- 
tain patience and sobriety until that time. 

Paul had adopted the feeling which had been 
growing among the Christian communities. He had 
not yet become very well informed about the actual 
teachings of Jesus, such as we find in the Gospels. 
They had not yet been written, and he had no means 
of knowing. Therefore he felt sure, about the middle 
of the first century, that a great change was impend- 
ing; that the old order of things would pass away, 
and the new order would be instituted. But that new 
order, he supposed at that time, would be connected 
with the coming back again of Jesus in the clouds of 
the sky, to assume the command of all things, and 
to destroy the Antichrist, which many reckoned to be 

The real substance of this letter of Paul's has refer- 
ence to the conduct of these converted Greeks. He 
wishes them to be most careful of all to maintain a 
good behavior, so that at the coming of Jesus with 


all his saints, they may be ready. He speaks in par- 
ticular of some of those gross vices to which, we are 
informed, the inhabitants of the cities of the Greek 
peninsula were addicted. He exhorts them to purity 
of heart and of life ; for that, he says, is what God has 
called them to. Now the Greeks were not used to 
the Jewish idea, and no doubt Paul's preaching about 
the coming of the Son of God from Heaven had 
thrown them into a ferment of excitement. Such fer- 
ments are not unknown to us, arising from the same 
cause ; and these Greeks, who had not enjoyed the 
high moral training which the Jews had, were un- 
doubtedly less affected by the moral teachings of Paul 
than by his visions of the coming of Jesus in the 

Therefore Paul, in this letter, is cautionary. He 
wishes them not to pay sole attention to the coming of 
Jesus in the clouds, but to grow morally, and to have 
the ambition of being quiet, and work at their various 
occupations, which probably many of them had neg- 
lected. They were to work at their occupations and 
make an honest living, as if there were to be no such 
coming of Jesus. Under the excitement caused by 
Paul's visit and his preaching many questions had 
arisen. His converts were filled with the idea of that 
appearance in the clouds ; and some of them were 
sorry for those that had died before they were able to 
partake in that great triumph. It was so great a loss 
not to see the glorious advent ! Thus the joyful ex- 
pectations of these people were greatly lessened by 
the thought of those who had died and lost it all. 
Paul knew of these discussions, and he undertook to 
settle the matter. He wrote that there need be no 
sorrow for the dead, — that is, for the good among 


them. They would have as much to do with the tri- 
umph as anybody. " For this we say unto you by the 
word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left 
unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede 
them that are fallen asleep. For the Lord himself 
shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice 
of the archangel and with the trumpet of God ; and 
the dead in Christ shall rise first ; then we that are 
alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught 
up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air ; and so 
we shall be always with the Lord. Wherefore comfort 
one another with these words." 

Such is the teaching which embodied itself in the 
first of the New Testament Scriptures. This is the 
message Paul bore to Jews and Greeks ; the message 
concerning a scene soon to occur in the sky, and 
simultaneously a breaking of the graves, so that the 
bodies of those who had been buried would come forth 
and ascend to the sky, while a host of living men and 
women would also join the ascent. Then would 
come a final overthrow of the powers of evil on the 

Paul believed all this to be true, just as William 
Miller and many others have believed it to be true.) 
Only, unlike some of the modern advocates of the 
theory, Paul would have the Christians neglect none 
of their affairs, and he would have them study to be 
quiet and give particular attention to sober and right 
behavior. However, in spite of all exhortations, the 
people could not help being excited at such a prospect. 
They wished to know the time when this magnificent 
panorama would open to view ; but Paul reminded 
them that they knew that it would come unexpectedly, 
like a thief in the night. Therefore it was useless 


for him to tell them anything further, except that 
when wicked persons had settled themselves in an evil 
content, then the great day would come, and there 
would be no escape from it. 

These enthusiastic teachings bore fruit. The West- 
ern people began to entertain the hope of the resur- 
rection of their bodies. They had been careless about 
the disposal of the bodies of the dead. They were not 
affected by the Egyptian feelings on that subject, but 
delivered the bodies to the flames. In due time the 
primitive notion of Paul with reference to that matter 
obtained such a hold in the West that the Christians 
began the construction of those catacombs which be- 
long to the wonders of the world. They were no 
longer indifferent to the disposal of the dead, but, 
with a religious and affectionate care, laid them away, 
in the sure hope of the resurrection. Such was the 
deep sobriety of Paul, and such his earnestness in the 
real moral teachings of the religion of Jesus, so far 
as he had heard them, that he laid great stress upon 
the daily conduct of his disciples. He wished them 
to admonish the disorderly, to encourage the faint- 
hearted, to support the weak, and to be long-suffering 
toward all. He would not have them repay evil with 
evil, but to be always following that which was good. 
He wished more for their moral improvement, what is 
called their sanctification, than anything else. He 
wanted to have them ready for Jesus, when he should 
appear, by being blameless and worthy. 

This is the first thing that was written for the com- 
ing New Testament, — this about the advent of Jesus 
in the clouds, with the sound of a trumpet, and the 
raising of dead bodies ; but to the fundamental authen- 
tic teachings of Jesus this bears faint resemblance. 


Now something happened, and it is of the utmost 
importance with reference to these visions of Paul. 
While great events did come to pass, and while a 
changed order did supervene, it was not at all in 
the way Paul expected. Jesus did not descend from 
heaven, with the voice of command, and with the voice 
of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and 
raise the bodies of the dead, and catch up Paul and 
others who were alive at the time. A certain some- 
what obscure Dutch author and some few American 
writers of no prominence have indeed claimed that 
these things actually happened at the time of the 
destruction of Jerusalem. If they did happen, how- 
ever, we have no means of knowing it, — and there- 
fore it is the same as if there had been nothing of the 
kind. Paul supposed that it was all true, and that 
he had received these visions from the Lord ; but they 
were visions which he evidently outgrew. Compara- 
tively few of the Christians of any age, after the apos- 
tolic, have given any heed to these teachings about 
Jesus coming in the clouds. Some of those who have 
more tenaciously held to the infallibility of the Bible 
have been greatly scandalized because the churches 
have been so careless of distinct teachings of an in- 
spired apostle. 

We are surely justified in the conclusion that Paul's 
first preaching differed materially from his later. If 
nothing more, he changed the emphasis from one doc- 
trine to another. Another thing is certified to by 
one of his letters, and that is his abandonment of the 
expectation of being caught up to meet the Lord in the 
air. He may still have believed that Jesus would come 
at some period in that manner ; but at all events he 
lost interest in the subject. As he ceased to care for 


the outward shows of royalty and conquest he ac- 
quired interest in other and more substantial matters. 
This is testified to by the letter to the Romans, which 
was written a few years later. It may be inferred that 
that letter was written to those who had been Jews, 
and might still indeed have considered themselves such. 
Hence the theological character of the writing. I 
suppose such questions were familiar to the schools of 
the rabbins ; the schools of Schammai and Hillel. Paul 
shows a new tendency to go deep into the meanings of 
things and to reason subtly upon them. He is no 
longer to be satisfied with anything that is merely out- 
ward, in the flesh. He has become more spiritually 
minded ; and, too, we may discern, if we attend care- 
fully to his line of argument, the loss of the old expec- 
tation of the coming of Jesus in the clouds. He has 
acquired a far better idea, and one far more consonant 
with the religion of Jesus. 

He does not look for a revelation of the wrath to 
come, but he sees the wrath of God already revealed 
from heaven against all ungodliness, and particularly 
against the craft of religious men. After a lengthy 
elaboration of the office and effect of faith, he perceives 
that the world is not waiting for the coming of Jesus 
upon the clouds, and that such a coming would really 
effect nothing of value. What the world is really 
waiting for — and it is filled with groans and tears and 
trouble while waiting — is the manifestation of men 
who have the spirit of Jesus. He does not look for the 
Son of God in the clouds of the sky, but for the sons 
of God walking the earth, and bettering the moral 
condition of it. 

We have read the Bible under a wrong impression. 
We have supposed that all the things a man may have 


said or written are equally true or equally mature. 
It is the habit of students to grow, and therefore to 
change their minds. It was the way of Paul to grow. 
While exhorting others to make advance he was not 
himself idle. He was a greater man, and a better 
teacher of God's truth, in the year 58 than in the 
year 52. His fertile mind and his thorough earnest- 
ness did not permit him to linger in the old crudity 
and error. He evidently outgrew it. His experience 
was that of a progressive man, that is, of a growing 

What he had written to the Corinthians, or the 
Ephesians, or earlier to the Thessalonians, did not 
debar him from writing a better message to others, 
when he had learned it. In him is illustrated, too, the 
wisdom of Jesus, who said that the kingdom of God 
is not immediately developed to full proportions in 
mankind, or in any member of the race, but that it 
grows in the mind and heart of mankind as it has op- 
portunity. The stage of to-day is not the standard 
for to-morrow. So Paul changed his mind about that 
very peculiar phenomenon which we have learned to 
know as the Second Advent. It faded away from 
him, as doubtless it has faded away from many an- 
other. While the Thessalonian Greeks had turned 
from idols to serve a living God, he had taught them 
to wait for the Son of God from heaven ; in other 
words, to expect the return of Jesus. They were clear 
of the wrath to come because they were in this state 
of mind. To the Roman Jews he said something 
which cannot be reconciled with the early enthusiasm. 
They were taught that so many as yield to the guid- 
ance of the Spirit of God are already, and while living 
on the surface of the earth, the sons of God. And 


they need not look with longing eyes to the sky, for 
the appearing of the Son of God, who had departed 
from the earth. With that Son of God they had 
not to do, except spiritually ; but with the spirit and 
mind of Jesus they had everything to do. The prev- 
alence of that spirit and mind upon the earth would 
bring its redemption from bondage. 

The growth of Paul suggests that there was growth 
elsewhere also among the early Christians. Iu fact, all 
things of all sorts come into phenomenal existence in 
this world by growth. The kingdom of heaven is no 
exception to the general rule of development. It is not 
first the full corn in the ear, but first the blade. The 
kingdom of heaven was in the soul of Paul first as a 
blade of promise. It must needs have been so with all 
his associates. We are forced to discriminate between 
the earlier and the later development. The expectation 
of the coming of Jesus upon the clouds of the sky, 
attended by celestial beings, to which the first writing 
of Paul testifies so strongly, was the very thing which 
prevented the writing of a thoroughly authentic history 
of the acts of Jesus. From the time when he had been 
put to death, the days slipped by and there were new- 
comers in Jerusalem. Questions as to the difference 
between Paul's notions about the Gentiles and the 
contrary notions of the apostles who had been with 
Jesus arose. History was making itself rapidly. 
There were persecutions, and flights away from Jeru- 
salem. There was the question of idols, and whether 
a follower of Jesus could eat that which had been 
offered in sacrifice to idols, after it was exposed for 
sale in the market. 

By the zeal and insight of Paul great questions con- 
cerning the validity of keeping the Sabbath, and the rite 


of circumcision, and performing vows in the temple, 
and the like were f orce'd upon the attention and decision 
of the men in authority ; and meanwhile, too, strange 
stories about Jesus were growing, and gaining wide 
currency in Judea, and adjacent countries, — stories 
concerning his birth, and the events precedent thereto ; 
strange stories of what he did as a little child. The 
age was emphatically an age of wonders and miracles. 
At every step the miracles were interwoven in the 
stories told and retold, and they gathered weight and 
size with each repetition. Meanwhile no man was at- 
tempting to soberly write the story of Jesus simply as 
he knew it, telling only what he actually knew Under 
the circumstances it seems, therefore, to have been one 
of the impossibilities to write a history of Jesus in the 
plain, matter-of-fact way of modern times. 

What then? In place of the sober biography we 
have a growth in the mind of the first century which 
is unlike the historical Jesus ; but the growth produces 
as its flower that ideal character, to know and love 
which is life and peace. (You do not have to ask 
questions of history in regard to the value and glory 
and excellence of that character. It shines for itself 
like the dawn of day. It shines by a light which puts 
all other light in shade. It appeals to us as a radiant, 
divine, and earth-redeeming truth. This is the light 
that lighteth every mam 



After Paul had written his letters to the saints in 
various localities, other kinds of literature came into 
vogue among the Christians. Of these none is more 
puzzling, none apparently more inscrutable, than that 
found in the last book of the New Testament. Many- 
readers have cast that document aside as useless. 
Others have regarded it as a collection of the vagaries 
of a person on the verge of in sanity. It may safely 
be said that the majority of the people to whom the 
Bible is the infallible revelation of God do not get 
much revelation, infallible or other, out of the book 
which especially bears that name, the last book of the 
Bible. It is true that its writer declares him blessed 
who reads it, as well as those who hear it and keep 
the things which are written therein. Yet with the 
exception of the first three chapters and two or three 
passages near the close of it, there is nothing edifying 
in it to the average reader. 

For that there is an excellent reason. The book 
was not written for us. We do not acquire any bless- 
edness by reading it, because its application is not to 
us. If in some manner we can be made to feel that 
the book has a great revelation for us of things that 
must shortly come to pass, then of course we shall 
become greatly interested in it, and try to find out, if 
possible, what it means ; but it was written so long 


ago, and had such distinct reference to things about 
to transpire, that we fail to find it interesting. There 
are truths in it which remain forever, but they are 
merely incidental in the book, and do not constitute its 
main theme. 

It seems probable, contrary to the settled opinion of 
earlier students, that this book may have been one 
of the earlier of the Christian writings. It is not im- 
possible that it was written before any of the Gospels. 
If the books of our New Testament were arranged 
chronologically, in the order of their composition, the 
First Epistle to the Thessalonians, as before suggested, 
would take the place of Matthew. Other epistles of 
Paul would follow that. Perhaps the next book to 
them would be this Apocalypse of John. So that if 
all the letters of Paul were combined in one book, and 
that book were placed at the beginning of the New 
Testament, then it is quite probable that the second 
book of the New Testament would be the one which 
now closes it. This does not profess to be an accurate 
opinion, nor one that can be substantiated by clear 
proof, but I believe it to be approximately true. 

If the first contribution to the New Testament was 
written about the year 52, there is something to show 
that this contribution by a (possibly) second writer 
was made within fifteen or twenty years thereafter, 
because we may well suppose that only a dire and 
immediate necessity would call forth such a writing. 
Such a necessity is plainly visible in the condition of 
the Jews and the Jewish Christians in the latter half 
of the sixth decade of the first century. 

A bit of history may be gleaned from many writers. 
One Floras was the Roman procurator of Judea, and 
exhausted the ingenuity of a man of some talent in 


devising exasperations for the patriots of his province. 
The people were insulted and made to feel the weight 
of the foreign power as heavily as possible, and the 
result was a revolt. Nero sent two of his generals 
to suppress the revolution ; and they, beginning with 
Antioch, swept down toward the capital, leaving only 
misery, death, and destruction in their wake. Whether 
the Roman empire at that time was at its worst or not, 
it certainly was worse than modern imagination can 
easily picture. Nero has always been subjected to 
the execration of mankind, and his tools and favorites 
were men of the ferocious martial type. The Roman 
armies were the scourge of the world. The Jews, 
roused to the defense of their country, contested the 
advance of Vespasian with the courage and fury of 
despair. They were in no wise inferior to their con- 
querors in courage, but were deficient in military or- 
ganization, and so they were driven back, inch by 
inch, toward the holy city. In it they were finally 
penned, Vespasian establishing his army in winter 
quarters in the vicinity. Then broke forth such ter- 
rors in Jerusalem, such atrocities, such sufferings, as 
elsewhere the astounded world has not looked upon. 
The French revolution, with its busy guillotine, its 
drowning of priests in the river at Lyons, its far- 
reaching Jacobin murder-society, was but child's play, 
compared with the destruction of Jerusalem. In its 
wildest days, Paris was a regulated city, compared 
with Jerusalem in its worst days, after the circum- 
vallation of Titus. So dreadful a fate was accorded 
to the Jews that the tongue refuses to speak it, and 
the pen to write it. 

The Christians fled out of the doomed city, went 
across the Jordan to Pella, scattered everywhere, so 


far as they were able ; and everywhere they carried 
the tidings of the most terrible times that had ever, 
they thought, darkened the world. Either because 
banished to a small island in the iEgean Sea, or wish- 
ing to seclude himself, John, the writer of the Apoc- 
alypse, was at this time leading a solitary life in the 
Island of Samos, of the group of the Sporades. This is 
said to be a desolate island, about thirty Roman miles 
in circumference, and may have furnished subsistence 
for a very scanty population. Thither John had be- 
taken himself, and there his visions came to him. It 
is possible that he had undertaken in that solitude 
to write letters of affectionate greeting, warning, ap- 
peal, and instruction to churches of Asia which he had 
become deeply interested in. He may have felt that 
the example of Paul, in that respect, was worthy of 
imitation. At any rate, he begins his letter to the 
seven churches of Asia, but in a style widely different 
from that of the more educated and argumentative 
Paul. One might be quite within the probabilities to 
suppose that he had made the plan of his letters, and 
was slowly working them out, adapting them to the 
needs of the various localities, when the news of the 
calamities of the fatherland came to him. The fervid 
imagination of the Hebrew, coupled with the faith of 
the Christian, forces him to send out a great message 
of the last times to the Christians not only of Asia, 
but wherever it may find them. The vision is not for 
all men. It is for those who can understand it. It is 
for those who have the knowledge of signs and figures 
of speech peculiar to the Jews. 

We shall go astray in our interpretation of this 
book of visions if we fail to note that the seer devotes 
himself only to the things which must shortly come to 


pass. What more natural than for John, hearing the 
awful tidings from Judea, to see an end of the old 
disorder, the crash of it in a final chaos, its reduction 
to ashes, and the rise of an orderly cosmos, a beauti- 
ful kingdom, to be ruled by the Lamb? The anguish, 
pain, and terror of the time were to him like the final 
pains of death, and like the pains of birth, as well ; 
but the keynote of the whole vision is in the antici- 
pation that the events noted are about to transpire ; 
not after centuries, and not after weary and bloody 
decades even, but at once. How one scene treads 
upon the heels of another, each pushing itself forward 
upon the stage to be itself crowded off without delay ! 

The main subject of the book is not a doctrine, prop- 
erly so called ; it is not a gospel, nor a treatise upon 
any topic, but a schedule of things about to happen. 
If John began with the idea of writing a pastoral 
letter to the churches of Asia, and had gone as far in 
that enterprise as the first three chapters (exclusive 
of the introduction, which may well have been added 
later), he abandoned it. The times were too pressing. 
If we combine all the scenes into one, it is contained 
in the words, " Behold he cometh." All is an expan- 
sion of those words. 

Our religious teachers have had dogmatic uses for 
all the books of the Bible, and they have made it ap- 
pear to the readers of this last book that the author 
was talking about the last things, or about the Second 
Advent, whenever it might be. He tells us that his 
vision is not of a second advent, or a last day, or any- 
thing of that nature, to occur in some remote period. 
What he saw was the immediate occurrence of events 
like the siege of Jerusalem. 

After the apocalyptic method, he sees all these 


things, as it were, in heaven. Everything is planned 
there, and symbolically represented, before it occurs 
on earth. There is a door opened in heaven, so as to 
permit the seer to perceive what is going on there. 
Through the door he beholds a throne, and he imme- 
diately hears a voice bidding him come up and see the 
things which must come to pass. On the throne is 
One who shines with an indescribable glory. A rain- 
bow spans with its arch the awful presence. Figures 
arrayed in white, and crowned with golden crowns, 
surround the throne ; and out of the throne proceed 
voices, lightnings, and thunders. The picture is cer- 
tainly a sublime one. Golden lamps are burning ; a 
multitude of eyes are gazing. The One sitting on the 
throne holds a book sealed with seven seals, but to 
remove the seals is beyond the power of any one, until 
a Lamb appears (also called the Lion of the tribe of 
Judah), who is able to open the seals. This book evi- 
dently contains the things which are shortly to come 
to pass. There is no one who can open the book of 
coming events, except the Lamb. He opens the seals 
one by one. At the opening of the first, there rides 
forth a rider upon a white horse, one who comes to 
conquer the world. At the opening of the second seal 
comes forth a red horse, probably representing, quite 
fittingly, war. At the opening of the third seal, a 
black horse. At the opening of the fourth seal, a 
livid horse, possibly representing famine. At the 
opening of the fifth seal, the voice of souls is heard, 
calling for vengeance upon tyrants, oppressors, and 
murderers. Then an earthquake, together with the 
turning of the sun into blackness, the moon red as 
blood, while the stars of heaven fall from their places. 
The heaven is removed as a scroll, when it is rolled 


up ; and then appears the day of the wrath of the 

After the seven seals come the seven trumpets and 
then the seven vials or bowls containing God's wrath. 
These are one by one emptied of their contents upon 
the earth. Upon the pouring out of the first bowl a 
disease falls upon the inhabitants of the earth. The 
second bowl is poured upon the sea and it turns to 
blood. The third turns the waters of rivers and 
springs into blood. The fourth renders the sun hot 
with intolerable heat, etc. 

The Jewish character of the vision is shown in the 
sealing of the twelve thousand from each tribe, and in 
the name " Lion of the Tribe of Judah," as applied to 
the Lamb, and in other ways. But there emerges to 
view the Beast, who sets a mark upon all men, bond and 
free, rich and poor, without which no one is permitted 
to buy or sell. This Beast is to be recognized by the 
initiated as the Caesar, Nero. In a mystic manner, the 
seer spells out the name for those who can understand. 
Pestilence, bloodshed, famine, every possible evil, be- 
trays its dire presence in these visions. The very 
sum and head of all evil, the dragon, or devil, having 
but a short time, bestirs himself to the utmost in doing 
all the mischief possible while space serves. 

Such is the writing of a man who, in his cave on 
the lonely island of the -ZEgean, can seethe panorama 
of the final conquest of good over evil. J He sees not 
only the glories of the opened heavens, and the activi- 
ties of spirits good and bad, but he sees the great 
dragon, the devil, at length laid hold of by a powerful 
angel, in whose hand is the key of the bottomless pit ; 
and the fiend is thrust down into the nether depths, 
there to abide a thousand years. Then he is let loose 


for a brief season, but it does not interest the seer, 
because that period is so far away. What does inter- 
est him is the event of the time, — the coming of Jesus 
in the clouds, to be seen by every eye, to be hailed by 
all mouths, to be worshiped by all men ; and that is 
shortly coming to pass. 

So vivid are the waking dreams of this man, so huge 
the disasters he sees, so bloody the color of all things, 
so lurid, so awful, that we wonder if this man could 
have walked about in the quiet paths of Judea or Gal- 
ilee with the Son of Man, and learned of him ; but we 
must recall the things which were transpiring in Judea 
at that very moment. We must put ourselves in the 
place of the seer, as well as we may, and think of the 
ruthless Roman carrying fire and slaughter and deso- 
lation through the fair land of the promise, — the 
sacred city sacked, its holy places invaded, its inhab- 
itants brutally slain. We must think of the deadly 
hatred such things must needs evoke in the breast of 
the Jew. We must think of the anguish of soul, the 
despair, except for the vision of the coming triumph, 
when all shall be reversed. Then the Beast, and the 
false prophet, and the dragon, and all the enemies 
of the sacred race will be shut up in the fire of the 
wrath of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment 
will ascend forever and forever. fCould any pain be 
too great for Nero and his hordes 7\ 

Looked upon without sympathy and without know- 
ledge of the circumstances, the book of Revelation is 
an insanity. There is an order, a method in the scen- 
ery, but the total is a frightful phantasm ;Cyet it is 
redeemed by one of the sweetest and most entrancing 
pictures of hope ever written by human handA The 
seer does not see through the open door of heaven the 


wreck of a world. He does not see purposeless agony 
of human souls, a meaningless martyrdom ; rather 
there is an issue from it all of a world at last fit 
for the habitation of gentle and just men. After all 
the death supervenes life ; after all the darkness and 
gloom comes an unfading light. For the diseases 
which have afflicted men there blooms the glorious 
tree, whose leaves have healing power. The hunger 
and the thirst, and the groaning, and the terrors, the 
bloodshed, oppressions, falsities, are all going, and 
they are going soon. That is the thing which must 
shortly come to pass. The golden city which is the 
true capital of the world, the New Jerusalem, descends 
from God out of heaven, and becomes at last an 
earthly city. The nations rejoice, and walk in the 
light of it; the time of crying and groaning and 
mourning is over. " Behold I make all things new," 
is the voice which thrills every heart. 

This book, strange as it is, had its uses ; but they 
were for the most part exhausted in the lifetime of 
the writer who wrote it. Like that other apocalyptic 
book which was sent forth in the period of the Macca- 
bees, to nerve the heart of the despairing with cour- 
age and inspire hope in the hopeless, this message of 
the seer of Patmos must have been the great divine 
book of its day to those who could read its mysteries. 
For those of a later time who have read it unintelli- 
gently, it has been far other than a blessing. For the 
most part it has been out of date since the century 
in which it was written, and not only out of date, but 
the inspiration of disordered dreams, and the cause of 
religious frenzy in many. 

( Now it is this kind of religious literature which has 
a transient value. It is not for future ages, but only 


for the age in which the writer lives. v When it is 
taken to be a schedule of the events of the a°;es of 
the world, to wind up finally with the triumph of the 
Jews, it will be sure to be misunderstood, and to pro- 
duce insane visions and baseless expectations?) 

There is another thing to be taken account of. 
With the exception of the first three chapters, which 
are advisory and appealing, and passages near the 
close of the book, which are hopeful, there is not very 
much which corresponds with the known facts. It is 
impossible to identify the fulfillment of these predic- 
tions. If we assume, as we must, that Rome, and the 
Caesar, and the legions, and all the imperial power 
are set forth in various vivid imagery, they on the one 
hand, and the Lamb, or Jesus Christ, on the other 
hand, with the hosts of heaven fighting under his ban- 
ner, what are we to think of the result of their con- 
flict ? The victorious rider on the white horse, coming 
forth conquering and to conquer, is to utterly annihi- 
late the power and pomp of the enemy. Babylon, the 
mystery of iniquity, the infamous woman, arrayed in 
scarlet, and drunk with the wine of her fornications, 
falls prostrate, and is thrust down to destruction, and 
the smoke of her torment ascends, the sign that she 
was, but is not. This is the expectation of the seer, but 
Babylon stands clearly enough for imperial Rome, the 
mistress of the world. She upon her seven hills, rul- 
ing with wide-stretched arm the destinies of the habita- 
ble world, hated beyond all by the Jew, fell not. The 
Jew and the Christian did not conquer her. By that 
slower process of downfall which has happened to all 
nations, she after a long period came to the end of her 
imperial power. The ardent prediction of John was 
not fulfilled, and can never be fulfilled, because the 
times have gone by. 


He who starts with the notion that the Bible is an 
infallible book, and true in all of its statements, in- 
cluding its predictions, is forced to one of two courses 
with respect to this book of John the seer. He must 
hold that the predictions were accurately fulfilled, al- 
though we have no historic account of it, or else that 
when the seer spoke of things shortly coming to pass, 
he did not mean shortly in our sense of the word. He 
meant shortly from the standpoint of God. I believe 
that is the course usually followed by interpreters who 
believe in the infallibility of the Bible. In support 
of that theory is the fact that at the close of the 
splendid scene, the triumph of God and the sover- 
eignty of the Lamb is described as the descent of the 
holy city, New Jerusalem, from heaven : then the re- 
demption of the world is accomplished. That shows 
that the seer did not limit himself to events near at 
hand. Yet is there any trouble in supposing that the 
seer did expect the ending of the old world in his 
own lifetime ? Is it difficult to imagine that he, in his 
fervid faith, and with his soul aglow with the promises 
of Christ, not understood by him, should see the end 
of things at hand ? Indeed, he takes the pains to say 
as much over and over again. The plain fact is that 
he was mistaken, as many another good and inspired 
man has been, both before and since his time. 

The body of his message is full of incongruous 
imagery. The seer lets loose, his imagination to riot 
in the scenes of conflict and triumph. There is an 
absence of that moral teaching which makes the sub- 
stance of the instruction of Jesus. " The end of 
things is at hand." There is required no longer the 
setting forth of the quiet and blessed ways of life. 
The man is in a delirium. He has reached the climax 


of that frenzy which has acquired the name of the 
Second Advent. Yet that frenzy finds no real foun- 
dation in him, because he is dreaming of the things of 
his own time and not of our time. 

In the three Synoptic Gospels which have been 
given a place in our New Testament, we find some- 
thing of the same idea attributed to Jesus. We hear 
him not only predicting the overthrow of Jerusalem, 
but he is represented as saying a few of the things 
spoken of in the Apocalypse. So strong a hold had 
these ideas concerning the coming of Jesus in the 
clouds upon the popular imagination, that we may well 
conclude that some of these elements were put into the 
mouth of Jesus, a! predicted by him ; but it is diffi- 
cult to reconcile them with his authentic teachings. 
It is easier to think that from this very book, if it was 
earlier than the Gospels, were taken the solemn words 
of the Gospels about waiting and watching for the Son 
of Man. 

The historic criticism of the New Testament thus 
opens to our view the necessity for a change of opin- 
ion with respect to the contents and meaning of the 
Scriptures. There may be many who are declaring 
that since the fathers fell asleep all things remain as 
they were since the beginning of the world. That is 
a serious error. (Nothing remains as it was, but all 
things change in the order of creation. ') It is the order 
of creation that all things should change?) Therefore 
many seem to be taken unawares with the influx of 
the new opinion which the close of our century wit- 
nesses. They do not know what they can do. There 
is a kind of watchfulness to which they have not been 
addicted. (The old view of the Bible is utterly unten- 
able. \ Watchful souls have discovered it, and have 


sought a better view. Perhaps it were most wise in 
all religious men to be watchful of the present ways 
of God in the continuing creation. They who are 
watchful will surely see that if creation goes on from 
one stage to another, revelation must also increasingly 
go on from age to age. 



Referring incidentally to the genealogies given 
respectively by Matthew and Luke, we discover ample 
reason to be dissatisfied with them. They do not 
agree. In Matthew the line of Joseph is traced to 
Abraham, but the ancestor of Joseph who belongs to 
the line is Solomon, the son of David. In Luke, how- 
ever, the progenitor of Joseph is Nathan, the son of 
David. (If the matter were important, we should find 
at once that we cannot trust the narrative^ fit is not 
of consequence, except to those who believe in the 
infallibility of the Bible, and to them it certainly 
ought to be weighty, because it disposes finally of 
their dream of infallibility^ The simple, honest, and 
honorable way to treat the case is to conclude that 
one or the other or both of the evangelists were as 
liable to be mistaken as other honest men, and that 
one or the other of them was surely mistaken in tra- 
cing the line of Jesus through Joseph to Adam or 
Abraham. (Solomon was not the progenitor of Joseph, 
if Nathan was.\ 

LFrom a strictly religious standpoint, this is of small 
moment.; The religious bearing of the ancestry of 
Jesus is nothing to one who has once apprehended that 
religion. If, however, Matthew and Luke are not to 
be trusted in an unimportant matter, are they to be 
trusted in matters of real religious consequence ? If 


they differ, by what means shall we decide which is 
right? If they agree concerning any matter which 
does not seem accordant with the teachings of Jesus, 
how are we to know what the truth in the case is? 
These are serious questions, for which we need not 
search unavailingly for answers. 

We have seen already that during the period which 
elapsed before the writing of the Gospel according to 
Luke, at least, — if not before the writing of any Gos- 
pel, — there came to be a feverish expectation of the 
second advent. This expectation rose to the height of 
delirium, as shown in the Apocalypse of John. The 
heart of the Christian community was all engaged 
with the second advent;; and out of the abundance 
of the heart the mouth speaketh. It became natural 
for the people to^put into the mouth of Jesus discourse 
concerning the second advent, because they were so 
full of it themselves. Yet it is in those passages 
which touch upon that subject, in the three Gospels, 
we find the sayings of Jesus which strike us as least 
in his method, and least in accord with the tenor of his 
other teaching. As largely contributing to the fever 
of second adventism at the time, we may be sure the 
book of Daniel was influential. In the book of Daniel 
are found words of accurate prediction. " From the 
time of the removal (or change) of the perpetual sac- 
rifice, when the abomination of desolation shall be set 
up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety 
days." It is supposed that the abomination of deso- 
lation was either some image, emblematic of the Ro- 
man sovereignty, or something connected with the 
idolatry of that people. It is related by Matthew and 
Mark that toward the end of his life Jesus went into 
the temple, and was passing out of it, when his disci- 


pies wished to call his attention to its beauty, and 
especially the adornment of it. He assured them that 
the overthrow of that temple was imminent : not one 
stone should be left upon another. It is further 
related that, returning to the Mount of Olives, his 
disciples privately asked him about the destruction 
of the temple and the end of the age when he should 
have come again. In answering these questions he is 
made to refer to the book of Daniel : " When, there- 
fore, ye see the abomination of desolation spoken of 
by Daniel, the prophet, standing in the holy place (let 
him that readeth understand), then let them that are 
in Judea flee unto the mountains ; let him that is on 
the housetop not go down to take out the things that 
are in his house," etc. 

Luke, in giving his account of this conversation, 
does not make Jesus refer to the book of Daniel. He 
does not think of the desecration of the temple by the 
introduction of the Roman ensign or some idolatrous 
image into its holy place ; and therefore he is not 
obliged to have Jesus say : " Whoso readeth let him 
understand," because what he says is plain to any one. 
" When ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then 
know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let 
them which are in Judea flee to the mountains," etc. 
It is therefore evident that while these three accounts 
are all colored by ideas of the second advent, they do 
not agree. Matthew and Mark say that Jesus referred 
specifically to Daniel, and his enigmatical words about 
the abomination of desolation ; while Luke tells us that 
he spoke of the armies encompassing Jerusalem as 
the sign that the desolation of it had come. It is idle 
to urge that they mean the same thing ; they do not, 
because in one case the sign is the introduction of 


some heathen symbol into the holy place of the 
temple, and in the other case it is the appearance of 
armies around the walls of Jerusalem. (Thus is indi- 
cated to us the probability that there was some com- 
mon stock of apocalyptic literature from which the 
three quoted, only Luke changes the quotation to 
suit the facts, which, when he wrote, had already 
transpired. ) 

(There is abundant evidence that the people of the 
time when the Apocalypse of John and the three Gos- 
pels were written did not understand Jesus. They 
make him say things inconsistent with his real mission, 
which was spiritual. That is largely because they are 
filled and fevered with the splendors and horrors of the 
second advent. They contradict themselves, therefore, 
for they tell us that he talked of signs in the sun and 
moon and stars ; (while at the same time they record 
that he had already said that no sign should be given 
to that generation?; They make him foretell a great 
tribulation (upon which John dwells much in the 
Apocalypse), and that immediately after it the sun 
shall be darkened, and the moon shall cease to yield 
light, and the stars shall fall from heaven. If we 
contend that this tribulation is some final catastrophe 
in the still future history of the world, we are told 
that he said that the generation then alive should see 
the fulfillment of all these predictions. The tribula- 
tion was soon coming, the darkening of the sun and 
moon and the fall of the stars. If it be still further 
urged that by " generation " he did not mean what is 
commonly meant, but rather the race (of the Jews), 
note that Matthew makes him say that there were some 
standing by him while he was speaking who should not 
taste death until they had seen the Son of Man coming 


in his kingdom. That is to say, there were some living 
at that time who should (as Matthew says) continue to 
live until the Son of Man came in the glory of his 
Father, with the angels, to judge the world. 

These are the things in which it is quite evident 
that the writers of the Gospels misunderstood Jesus : 
for those writers, following the popular idea about the 
second advent, lost sight of the moral regeneration 
of the world, as the only thing befitting the character 
and mission of Jesus, and thought of the conquest of 
the world in some outward way, as by the advent of 
Jesus with armies of angels in the clouds of the sky. 
'Whatever may have been their opinion, this one thing 
remains by which to test their insight, or their lack of 
it, namely, the fact that the Son of Man did not come 
with the angels so that every eye saw him and all 
the tribes of the earth mourned.; What did happen 
in that generation was nothing unusual in the clouds 
of the sky, but something unspeakably dreadful upon 
the surface of the earth ; and that was the siege of 
Jerusalem by Titus, and the awful scenes of famine 
and madness inside the walls of the devoted city. The 
judgment did not sit, with the Son of Man upon the 
throne of his glory, in the sense which the words of the 
evangelists imply. The nations were not gathered to 
be separated from each other as a shepherd divides 
the sheep from the kids. Those nations which had 
not been kind to the brethren of the King were not 
sent into the eternal fire with the devil and his angels. 
Yet these are the events which the enthusiastic Jewish 
Christian expected would happen in the near future, 
— these are the things which the words of Jesus, as 
the evangelists report them, would lead any one to 


Now it is no pleasant task to show the deficiencies 
of any one, least of all the faults of those who have 
performed the inestimable service of giving the New 
Testament to the world ; but the deficiencies are there, 
open to the inspection of any who have eyes to see. 
We are forced to deal with them, as best we may ; 
out we shall not deal well with theui if we slur them 
over, or construct some theory by which we continue 
to accept things mutually irreconcilable. The task is 
being laid upon us of distinguishing between the actual 
teachings of Jesus and those teachings which have 
been credited to him, but which do not accord with 
his method.) All things in the world which appeal to 
us for our trust and confidence must be tested. If in 
so important an interest as religion we do not prove 
all things, we shall not be likely to hold fast to that 
which is good.; 

Two incidents are related in the evangelists from 
which lessons are to be learned. The mother of the 
sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with a request. " Com- 
mand that these my two sons may sit, one on thy 
right hand and one on thy left hand, in thy kingdom." 
Jesus told them that they did not know what they 
were asking, as surely they did not ; and the ten were 
indignant that the two sons of Zebedee should thus 
undertake to get the start of them in the coming 
dignities. The scene gave occasion to Jesus to teach 
them that those who are really first in the kingdom 
of God are not those who have the best seats, but 
hhose who do the best and most service. This lesson 
is obvious, from the standpoint of Jesus, and it is 
given in different forms by the several evangelists. 
On another occasion Jesus took a little child and pre- 
sented him to the disciples as an example of the hu- 


mility they ought to have. It becomes evident that 
Jesus discouraged the ambition of his followers, so far 
as it related to having seats or thrones of authority in 
the coming kingdom. As to authority, that at any 
rate was God's matter, and he would attend to it as 
seemed wise to him. Jesus would not give such a 
promise as was demanded of him. He preferred to 
promise that they should partake with him in the labor 
and sufferings incident to his mission. All this seems 
clear enough. \We would suppose that no one could 
be so blind as to err in respect to these solemn les- 
sons. Yet that the evangelists did err in respect to 
them is perfectly plain. 

A young man who had great possessions came to 
Jesus to learn of him the way of life. Jesus told him 
what the way of life would be for him, but he could 
not bring himself to undertake to walk in it, and 
went away sorrowful. Then Jesus told his disciples 
how difficult it must be for the rich to enter his 
kingdom. Peter supposed, after his usual fashion, 
that for such great sacrifices as this young man was 
called upon to make there must be great reward. He 
had the notion, so common among men of the less 
spiritual sort, that one does everything for a reward ; 
so he said, substantially, to Jesus, " We have done 
what you told that young man to do. We have left 
everything behind in order to follow thee, and now 
what shall we have?" If Jesus answered as Mat- 
thew tells us he did, then his answer to the mother 
of Zebedee's sons must really pass for nothing. They 
were wishing for thrones on either hand of his throne. 
He would not grant that. When Peter asks for some- 
thing by way of reward for leaving their fishing busi- 
ness and following Jesus, Matthew declares that Jesus 


said : " Verily I say unto you, that ye which have fol- 
lowed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man 
shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit 
upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of 
Israel." Probably some have supposed that in the 
other world, beyond the grave, the twelve tribes of 
Israel would be again reestablished ; but that notion 
has only to be examined to be abandoned. The estab- 
lishment of a tribal relation, an old primitive and 
provisional arrangement in heaven, is not satisfac- 
tory to the mind. What the evangelist undoubtedly 
meant was the restoration of Israel, as a community 
of twelve tribes, on the earth and in the land of Pal- 
estine. Such restoration is plainly contemplated in 
the Apocalypse of John. These tribes were to have 
one imperial king, the Lion of the tribe of Judah ; 
and the twelve followers corresponding with the num- 
ber of tribes were to be assigned thrones over the 
tribes, and so the ambition of the disciples, the sons 
of Zebedee and the ten who had been indignant with 
them, would be gratified. Their sacrifices would be 
most gloriously rewarded. 

That Jesus should once in a while say things of 
this sort, absolutely contrary to his own deep con- 
victions expressed at other times, or build up the 
things he was mainly engaged in tearing down, is not 
probable. f How much more probable is it that his 
disciples, and afterward the persons who undertook to 
write his biography, fell into grave error and mis- 
understanding of him, than that he should have so 
grossly misunderstood himsel£\ To put the case com- 
pactly : in one breath he declines to promise the two 
sons of Zebedee the thrones they asked for, through 
their mother, and in the next breath he emphati- 


eally promises them these thrones of authority and 
dignity. I therefore hold the statement of Matthew 
to be incredible. It is difficult to find an inner and 
deeper sense in which the words may be true. The 
reward promised is of the very kind Jesus did not be- 
lieve in. 

It may be asked if any one has a right to set up 
his individual judgment against a plain declaration of 
the New Testament ;(and I answer, not only a right 
but a positive duty^j Those who hold to the infallibil- 
ity of the Bible may be said to give an equal value to 
these two mutually destructive teachings of the New 
Testament. In so doing the teachings necessarily 
reduce to nothing. (Jt is our right and duty to see 
that the true teaching may be recognized as such, and 
the false teaching be so classified, otherwise the word 
of God is made of none effect by our tradition of 

[\i Jesus characteristically teaches unworldliness 
and a distrust of worldly ambitions, he cannot once 
in a while countenance, much less stimulate, such am- 
bitions. Whoso tells us that Jesus promised thrones 
to his disciples, as their reward for making the sacri- 
fice of following him, convicts himself, not Jesus, of 
error.) Very well, some one will say, if the evangelist 
errs in such ways, how may we be sure that he does 
not err in all ways? In answering that question we 
ought to heed the principle that the truth which is 
assured to us is self-evident. It is characteristic of 
Jesus that while he lacks the authority of the scribes, 
he has the far higher authority of the self-evidence 
of what he says. One asks : " How do I know that 
purity of heart is blessedness? May not that prove 
to be an error, if Jesus is not infallibly reported ? " 


If we cannot see that purity of heart is blessed beyond 
all peradventure, we could not be sure of it if a dead 
man were to rise from the grave and tell us so. We 
could not certainly know it if an angel were to fly 
down out of the sky and alight visibly before our 
eyes and tell us so. It is a self -evidencing truth, 
or it is nothing. So it is of that teaching concern- 
ing humility and service; having once grasped the 
idea of it, it is evident. \We know it is true just be- 
cause we see it to be true. ] That other statement about 
sitting upon twelve thrones and judging the twelve 
tribes of Israel, and all like sayings attributed to Jesus, 
not only do not carry any evidence of truth in them- 
selves, but they are contrary to the self-evidencing 
truths we see in the other sayings of Jesus. There- 
fore the one is to us an authentic saying of Jesus, and 
the other is not. In the one we detect the truth of 
Jesus, in the other the error of the evangelist. 

Such discrimination is made obligatory upon us at 
the present time. "We simply have to exercise the 
same kind of discrimination that those men did who 
determined what should go into the Bible and what 
should be kept out.) Are we less responsible than 
they ? Have we not as grave cause as they to dis- 
tinguish between wheat and chaff? 

All of the sayings of Jesus which have come down 
to us in the New Testament were first committed to 
oral tradition. They were repeated from mouth to 
mouth. They were of the kind which do not pass into 
oblivion. They were also of the kind that preserves 
the sense, even if the wording be somewhat changed. 
It is quite possible that not one in ten of these say- 
ings of Jesus has been recorded in our Bible, for it is 
evident that Jesus was a copious talker. \ Paul, for 


instance, was familiar with a saying of Jesus which 
none of the evangelists record. " It is more blessed 
to give than to receive ; " but many or most of these 
sayings attributed to Jesus, and committed to oral 
tradition, were not so self-evident as that one. Some 
sayings supposed to have come from Jesus are sen- 
suous, like that saying concerning the twelve thrones. 
Irenaeus, one of the earliest of the Fathers, quotes one 
of these sayings believed to have been uttered by the 
mouth of Jesus. There was a Christian pastor or 
bishop named Papias, earlier than Irenaeus, who dili- 
gently collected the " sayings " of Jesus which were 
current in the early churches. The writings he seems 
to have held in small esteem, compared with these 
oral traditions. They came from the " living voice," 
and therefore he valued them. Now here is one of 
the sayings attributed to Jesus, which he and Ire- 
naeus were sure Jesus uttered. It was precisely as 
good in their view as that about the twelve thrones, 
and was in fact of the same order. After the second 
coming of Jesus the saints would be put in possession 
of the earth, but it would be a new earth, and much 
more beautiful and fertile than the old earth. The 
saints would have vineyards, and the vineyards would 
be immeasurably better than the old ones. Here is 
what Jesus is reported to have said of them: "Then 
will grow vines having ten thousand shoots, and each 
shoot ten thousand branches, and each branch ten 
thousand twigs, and each twig ten thousand clusters, 
and each cluster ten thousand berries, and the juice 
of each berry will make twenty- five measures of wine : " 
2,500,000,000,000 measures from each vineV That 
was one of the sayings supposed to have come from 
1 See Cone's Gospel Criticism, p. 275. 


Jesus. The people believed it ; Papias believed it ; 
so did IrenaBus. Because they believed it we may con- 
cede that there is considerable evidence for its au- 
thenticity ; but its meaning does not correspond, as we 
may easily see, and as some of the later Fathers did 
see, with the moral teachings of Jesus, and they re- 
jected it. We may with equal certainty declare that 
it is foreign to Jesus to say the words about the twelve 
thrones upon which the twelve disciples are to sit in 
the regeneration. (As well believe in the marvelous 
vines, each one capable of pouring out rivers of 
wine, as to believe in such a regeneration of the world 
as that the twelve tribes shall reappear and have 
twelve kings?) 

( A gold mine is not composed exclusively of pure 
metal. It is partly gold and partly other things. A 
certain worthless metal, pyrites, resembles gold. The 
people who work in the mines dig out the material, 
and then they separate the gold from the refuse. 
They sift, or wash, or try by fire, but in any number 
of ways they seek to differentiate between the excellent 
gold and the things which are not gold. Some are 
more skillful in this than others, and the unskilled 
cannot determine the difference between gold and 
pyrites. At all events, the exceedingly necessary 
process, before the gold is put into the money circula- 
tion of the world, is to separate the gold from the 
grogser or cheaper materials. 

\I believe the Bible to be a mine of truth, and in 
particular the New Testament and the four Gospels 
are rich veins in this mine?) Some way or other, by 
the cultivation of our faculties, we are to learn to 
discriminate the real from the seeming ; the truth 
of Jesus from the dross of the misinterpretation of 


his biographers.^ If men can learn to recognize the 
precious metals wherever they see them, and are able 
to test them, there is no reason except indolence or 
superstition, why they should not learn to recognize the 
truth of God, the truth of Jesus, wherever it may be 
found. The way of taking everything in the Bible as 
the truth, even when shown that some things cannot 
in the nature of things be true, is a way of laziness ; 
and not over conspicuous for its honesty^ We do not 
acquire the wealth of revelation in that way. Only as 
we freely test the Bible, and learn how to test it, shall 
we get its truth free from its dross, and be able to 
enjoy and live that truth.) 



A multitude of questions arise respecting the doc- 
trines of the New Testament, after one has become a 
little acquainted with the results of historical criti- 
cism. If Jesus did not promise his disciples that they 
should sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve 
tribes of Israel, did he promise the success of his enter- 
prise of saving the world ? The three Synoptic Gospels 
give us grand pictures of a judgment day. In the 
first we witness the gathering of all nations before the 
Son of Man, who sits upon the throne of his glory. 
In the second Gospel we hear Jesus saying : " Whoso- 
ever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this 
adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the 
Son of Man be ashamed when he cometh in the glory 
of his Father with the holy angels." In the third 
Gospel we hear the same words, but do not find given 
^giich a picture of judgment as is given in the first. 
Nevertheless, in the first three Gospels we are led to 
expect a judgment day, when the Son of Man shall 
appear with the holy angels and consummate the 
judgment of the world. \ 

The judgment and other events associated with it 
are to occur in the lifetime of those who live in that 
generation. Now we reckon the life of a generation 
to be about thirty or thirty-five years. That is the 
average duration of life for the generation. By reason 


of other sayings ascribed to Jesus, however, we are 
not limited to so short a period as that for the fulfill- 
ment of the predictions. We are permitted to take the 
life of the man who survives his generation, and he 
may live, as tradition asserts the Apostle John did, 
to be a hundred years old. Therefore, we may con- 
clude that the judgment of the nations, when the Son 
of Man " shall sit upon the throne of his glory," will 
transpire within the century. So that according to 
the predictions contained in the first three Gospels, 
as well as in such portions of the New Testament as 
Paul's earlier letters, the Apocalypse of John, and 
the Epistle of Jude, the judgment day must certainly 
be before the year 150 of the Christian era. 

Two things are evident : (1.) That if the prediction 
of the coming of Jesus in the clouds of heaven with 
the angels were really announced to take place in that 
generation, that is, within a century, that fact would 
not be forgotten by the people. Friends would tell 
friends of it, and parents dying would bequeath that 
promise to their children. The sufferings, privations, 
and persecutions incident to the time would be the 
more patiently borne because the day of judgment and 
of vengeance was not far away. (2.) If, however, the 
generation passed entirely away, and these things did 
not come to pass, and if the harrowing scenes of the 
Roman conquest of Jerusalem became less dreadfully 
real to the people by the soothing effect of time, and 
if instead of the end of all things there seemed rather 
to be a new beginning of things, not in the sky, but 
on earth, then surely a different notion of the meaning 
of judgment would grow up. Other ideas, such as 
the gift of thrones to the twelve, in the coming re- 
generation, would lose their hold upon the imagination 


of the more intelligent portion of the church. More- 
over, ideas of those very wonderful events of which 
Paul writes to the Thessalonians, such as the raising 
of the bodies of the sleeping, or dead, and their ascent 
into the sky, and the catching up of the living, to make 
their abode in the sky, would be materially modified. 
In three of the Gospels these ideas found very full 
expression, and especially in the Gospel of Matthew. 
Indeed, Matthew in particular is everywhere colored 
with these thoughts of the impending judgment and 
irruption of angels. The color is quite deep in some 
of the last chapters. 

/^There is, however a book of the New Testament 
which gives a very different conception of judgment, 
the resurrection, and the coming of Jesus ; that is, 
the fourth Gospel. This is the book which seems 
always to have puzzled the students. It puzzled the 
early Fathers. German criticism has long played it- 
self out in force upon it ; and no wonder. It is un- 
like any other book in the Bible. 

An immigrant in a new country compares the land 
with the tales that have been told of it. He sees virgin 
soil, great forests, plentiful water, and other natural ad- 
vantages. If he has been led to expect that all man- 
ner of fruits and good food will present themselves 
ready to his hand upon his advent into that country, 
he will suffer great disappointment. The fruits and 
the food are there, potentially, and even beyond all 
that he has been told, but he must make his own effort 
toward their development. He must proceed to put 
his own labor into the clearing of the forest, and the 
tillage of the soil, and the actual raising of crops, and 
then he will realize how true the stories were which 
had been told him. They were true, only they had 


left out a very important element of truth, and that 
was the personal labor part. 

The early Christians were hearing all the time 
about the new kingdom of Jesus ; they were for the 
most part looking to see it drop into their hands, as it 
were, from the skies, — a ready-made kingdom coming 
with sudden pomp of judgment. Angels were to fly 
down with all the blessings and rewards and retri- 
butions of which Jesus had been understood to talk. 
They watched for these events to come to pass because 
they had been solemnly assured of their early arrival, 
and they did not come. The delays were unaccount- 
able, and hard to endure; the century in which it 
was necessary for them to occur was waning, perhaps 
had already waned, when a different Gospel was 
written. Not different indeed from the authentic 
teachings of Jesus, but a better exposition of those 

Recur to Paul's first contribution to the New Testa- 
ment, and what he said about the rising of the dead : 
"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, 
with a shout, and with the voice of the archangel, and 
with the trump of God ; ,and the dead in Christ shall 
rise first ; then we that are alive, that are left, shall to- 
gether with them be caught up in the clouds to meet the 
Lord in the air," etc. In the fourth Gospel the truth 
Paul misconstrues is given, clear of that air-castle ele- 
ment which Christian imagination added. There is 
the Lord, not descending from heaven, but present 
upon the earth, and there is the voice, and the effect 
of the voice is the rising of the dead ; but the scene is 
transferred from the future to the present, and from 
the sky to the ground. Much more than that, the 
transfer is also from the outward to the inward. 


Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour cometh and 
now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son 
of God, and they that hear shall live?) A great cur- 
rent of religious thought and feeling had been running 
toward the hour which was assumed to be coming ; 
and the present hour, with its possibilities, its resurrec- 
tions, its judgments, had been neglected. It is quite 
possible that the fourth Gospel was written partly to 
counteract the religion of expectation, the religion of 
sky-gazing. For in it the Son of Man is taken out of 
the clouds, and his religion made to be no cloud-land 
religion but the religion of the present hour and place. 
We do indeed see the angels in this last Gospel and 
last contribution to the New Testament, but even the 
angels are not cloud dwellers; they ascend and de- 
scend upon the head of the Son of Man. 

Great attention has been given this fourth Gospel by 
the critics. For long it has been discerned to have a 
different method, and perhaps even a different truth 
from other Gospels. They are narrations of events, 
and of brief sayings of Jesus, each saying more or 
less disconnected from the others. When we under- 
take to discourse, we take our subject and develop it, 
as we are able. We argue and illustrate that partic- 
ular theme. Not so the discourses of Jesus as given 
in the Synoptic Gospels. He is nowhere represented 
as speaking consecutively at length. In the sermon 
on the mountain, as well as in the sermon on the 
plain, he speaks in short and more or less discon- 
nected sayings. 

A mass of bones, each perfect in itself, would un- 
doubtedly have an interest for us, but would not im- 
press us in the same way as if girt in a living frame, 
bound together, and vitally cooperating. It is in the 


fourth Gospel that we reach the discoursing Christ, — 
( the Christ who has so much to say and do that books 
cannot contain the record. Therefore in this fourth 
Gospel we may conceive ourselves as possessing a 
few of the discourses of Jesus, or the sayings of Jesus 
constructed together. It is the book of the talking 
teacher, rather than the book of aphorisms. 

A multitude of opinions have of course arisen as to 
the authorship of this book, and the time when it was 
written. It is probable that many of these opinions 
are erroneous. Of one thing we may be certain, and 
that is that the uncritical opinions concerning the 
book which obtained in the past are no longer to be 
rationally held. As to what new opinion may be 
adopted, that will probably appear as one studies more 
deeply into the-.nature of the book and the time of its 
composition. Q But the fourth Gospel is such that, 
when we are reading it, and feel the inspiration of 
its sentiment, we care not to ask about its authorship 
or the time of its composition.] Indeed, it is free from 
time and sense, because it sees the whole mission of 
Jesus, not more in futurity than in the present, and 
not more really in either than in the past. ) " In the 
beginning was the Word," and the Word is alwaj^s 
speaking, has always spoken, will always speak. It 
is when we study the structure of the Bible and its 
various parts that we become interested in the author- 
ship of the fourth Gospel ; and then it is that we may 
possibly discover in it a key which will unlock many 

Let us go back to our immigrant, who has come to 
a new land and is disappointed at its failure to cor- 
respond with the stories he had heard of it. He sits 
down and waits. He will see if these rich promises 


are coming to pass. He provides himself with a rude 
shelter, and contrives to get a scanty subsistence out of 
the brook, and from the wild game ; but he engages 
himself, for the most part, in waiting for the spon- 
taneous bounty of the new world to drop into his lap, 
and it fails to drop. Then some one, having know- 
ledge of his forlorn state, writes him a letter, bidding 
him note that he has misapprehended the nature of 
the information he received. The information is sub- 
stantially true ; the bountiful harvests are really there, 
— fields of corn, widespread and abundant ; but they 
are there to be wrought out into actuality by him. 
JBefore he will ever see the promises fulfilled, he must 
address himself to the necessity of doing his part 
toward fulfilling them./ Above all he musts stop wait- 
ing and watching for these things which will never 
come by being waited foi\) The sooner he stops that, 
and goes on to develop the bounties of the earth into 
harvests, the better?\ 

T take it that the fourth Gospel is such a message 
that addressed to a mistaken church. It revises 
their truth, or their apprehension of it. The truths 
of Jesus which had not theretofore been clearly ex- 
pressed, or which had been so connected with clouds 
and futurity as to be neutralized in effect, were now 
brought into the foreground. Let us note specifically 
how : — 

Said the religion of the time : " The judgment of 
the world is coming ; the Son of Man will soon appear 
in the clouds, and sit upon the throne of his glory." 
Said Jesus in the fourth Gospel : 'fSow is the judg- 
ment of this world.'N Said the religion of the time : 
" When Jesus comes in the glory of his Father, and 
all the holy angels with him, then shall we know the 


truth and see all things." Said Jesus in the fourth 
Gospel: "Not when the Son of Man shall come in 
the clouds, outwardly in the sky, but when the Spirit 
of truth shall come unto you to be in you, then shall 
you know the truth, and shall be free, and shall know 
the things to come." Said the religion of the time : 
" There shall be great power and glory hereafter, and 
thrones for those who have suffered with the Son of 
Man." Jesus in the fourth Gospel said: "In my 
Father's house are many abodes." In the religion 
of the time were the ceremonies of the new religion, 
and in the three Gospels were to be read the conse- 
crating words of one august ceremony : " As oft as 
ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the 
Lord's death till he come." In the fourth Gospel 
Jesus does not appoint a ceremony ; he rather says : 
" Except ye eat the flesh and drink the blood of the 
Son of Man, ye have no life in you." " He that hath 
the Son hath the life." IThese are words of inward 

J v 

meaning, — words not related to the time when the 
Son of Man shall come, but to the transfer of the 
mission of Jesus from himself to his disciples, which 
would come whenever they sufficiently partook of his 

The structure of the fourth Gospel differs from that 
of the others sufficiently to attract the attention of any 
one. ) The fourth Gospel introduces ideas from a Greek 
philosophy. As in the older time when the Jews came 
in contact with the Greeks, and were influenced by 
them, so it happened again. Only the Greek influence, 
shown by the fourth Gospel, appears to be unlike that 
exercised upon the writer of Ecclesiastes ; but the 
structure, which is a proper subject of study, may for 
the present be passed over. The difference between 


the fourth and the other Gospels is in part this : (that 
it is not tinctured by second advent pictures and ex- 
pectations^) More than that, in place of the second 
advent expectations it puts the mission of the Spirit.N 
If you search the three evangelists, you will fail to find 
more than an incidental promise of the Spirit. We 
see the Spirit, indeed, descending from heaven and 
abiding upon Jesus. It comes like a dove, or as 
though it were some outward agency, something to 
abide upon the Son of Man, rather than to be in him. 
The Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to be 
tempted of the devil. It influences Jesus to go into 
the temple, or into Galilee ; but there is slight notice 
of the Spirit in these synoptics. The hope of being 
filled with the Spirit, and enlightened, and empowered, 
the three evangelists do not aspire to. In the place of 
the Spirit, they have the vision of the Son of Man 
coming in the clouds of heaven, humiliating and pun- 
ishing his enemies, and rewarding his friends. 

\Qn the other hand, in the fourth Gospel we have 
distinctively the gospel of the Spirit. In the first and 
third we find the disciples begging their Master to 
teach them how to pray, as John had taught his dis- 
ciples. Perhaps John had taught his disciples one or 
more forms of prayer. If we are to credit the evan- 
gelists, John did not belong to the new kingdom, but 
to the old Jewish dispensation ; and he acted in ac- 
cord with the old order of things. Jesus taught the 
disciples how to pray. It was not of his own motion 
that he taught them, but by their persuasion. He 
taught them to pray to the Father and to pray for the 
coming of the kingdom. In John is introduced a dif- 
ferent teaching. This teaching was not addressed to 
the disciples, being perhaps too large and spiritual for 


them ; but it was addressed to a woman, half or more 
heathen, — one devoted to the worship of Jehovah in 
Mount Gerizim, and after the manner of the Samari- 
tans. To this learner, Jesus said that God does not 
desire the Jerusalem worship, nor the Gerizim wor- 
ship, but the worship in the spirit. "[Neither in this 
mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, shall they worship the 
FatherX" 'tThe hour is coming and now isT)' All 
Jewish attention was fixed upon the coming hour, but 
Jesus adjourns nothing. If the hour is coming when 
spiritual worship is in order, it is in order now. 

(So in many ways the fourth becomes the Gospel of 
the present tense^) It calls attention from the bodily 
form and presence of Jesus, and concentrates it upon 
his spirit. It dissolves the clouds upon which reli- 
gious imagination had held the Son of Man was soon 
coining ; there had been those who expected, with 
Paul, in his earlier days, to be taken out of the 
world, to meet the Lord in the air, and so to be ever 
with the Lord ; but in this fourth Gospel Jesus is 
made to say, 4 Cl pray not that thou shouldest take 
them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep 
them from the evil. 'J 

It was understood by the early Christians that on 
one or two occasions Jesus had taken a few little 
loaves of bread, and had magnified them into a simple 
banquet for a multitude. This was made much of 
as a sign of great power, and power, too, of the kind 
most attractive to men. In the fourth Gospel this 
miracle is accepted, because upon it can be based the 
doctrine of the Spirit, and the discourse of the bread 
of life is given. The Christians had been fond of 
reading Daniel, and his visions of the Son of Man 
coming on clouds of heaven, and coming to the An- 


cient of days. In the fourth Gospel their attention is 
directed to another kind of prophet. Ezekiel has his 
dreams as well as Daniel ; and in his dreams the writer 
of the fourth Gospel sees more than in the ambitious 
spectacles of Daniel. The prophet is brought to the 
door of the temple, and he beholds a spring of water 
issuing from the threshold. This little spring in the 
temple flows outward, deepening and enlarging as it 
flows. It becomes a river, and it proves to be a river 
of life to every region into which it finds its way. One 
can conjecture that the prophet felt so about Israel ; 
that from its religion and its teaching, or its spirit, 
would flow forth in due time influences which would 
give life to the world. Now it is precisely this kind of 
prophecy which is in accord with the man who wrote 
the fourth Gospel. He does not think about the domi- 
nation of the Son of Man by reason of his glorious 
advent upon the clouds, when every eye shall see him, 
and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn. (He does 
think about the diffusion of the influence and Spirit 
of Jesus throughout the worhO 

In the fourth Gospel, we see Jesus standing in the 
temple on the last and greatest day of a national feast, 
and lifting his voice to say : "Uf any man thirst, let 
him come unto me and drink. lie that belie veth on 
me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall 
flow rivers of living water." (But this spake he of the 
Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.) 
The common feeling of the people had been that Jesus 
would rule, just as other rulers did, by force, only that 
his force should prove irresistible, but the idea of the 
writer of the fourth Gospel was that Jesus should 
rule, not by force, but^byjinflu^ncej Therefore the 
great discourses recorded in the fourth Gospel are dis- 


courses of the Spirit. '/The kingdom shall come by the 
Spirit. The earth shall become the abode of right- 
eousness by the Spirit, or by the influence of Jesus^ 
'So will be realized the vision of the prophet who saw 
the spring bubble up at the threshold of the temple, 
and flow out in a widening river to bless and heal, 
and give life to the world.' 

In the Epistle to the Hebrews the courage and 
patience of the Christians were stimulated by such 
words as these : " Cast not away therefore your bold- 
ness, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye 
have need of patience, that, having done the will of 
God, ye may receive the promise. For yet a very 
little while, he that cometh shall come, and shall not 
tarry." That expresses the feeling which it was the 
object of the fourth Gospel to counteract. Is it not 
specifically counteracted in such words as these, found 
in the fourth Gospel, as coming from the lips of 
Jesus, "A little while, and ye behold me no more; 
and again a little while, and ye shall see me " ? All 
the time Jesus is talking about the Spirit. It is the 
Spirit which is to complete his work. It is the Spirit 
which is to be born into the world, by being transferred 
from him to them. They will be full of rejoicing be- 
cause of that Spirit, and not because they expect to see 
the Son of Man coming on the clouds. 

The critics tell us that they are dubious about this 
fourth Gospel, dubious about its history, — it differs 
so greatly from the simple tales of the other Gospels. 
There is such an air of elaboration about it, that they 
do not credit it. Very well, but the fourth evangelist, 
whoever he may have been, is trying, as best he can, 
to reveal the spirit of the character and mission of 
Jesus. He will take historical incidents, as they have 


recorded themselves in the Christian traditions, and 
make them serve his purpose, of exposing the heart 
of Jesus. He does not care for geography, as is evi- 
dent, and he does not care to locate any incident in 
its proper historical setting; he will open the heart 
of the matter. So he tells us that Jesus says, " He 
that believeth on me believeth not on me, but on the 
one sending me b" that is, the Spirit* 

The age was not ready for the work of Jesus, and 
weary ages have passed since the days of the Son of 
Man on earth. The adjournment of all things until 
the Son of Man should come on the clouds has had its 
fatal effect for a long time. (Perhaps the world will 
soon be more ready for the gospel of the Spirit, the 
gospel of the present tense. But before any of us 
will be ready, we will have to discredit those visions 
which filled the imagination of the first Christians. 
When once we have boldness enough to credit the 
gospel of the Spirit, we shall have boldness enough 
to discredit the sayings of the writers of the epistles 
and of the three Gospels about the coming of Jesus, 
with all the holy angels, to judge the world. We shall 
perchance be ready to have our judgment of the world 
and its ways as we go along. Perhaps then there will 
be some real belief in the Spirit of Jesus, as saving 
the world. 



Students have long recognized this difference be- 
tween the fourth and the other Gospels of the New- 
Testament: that while in the former are given the 
discourses delivered in public, the parables and such 
teachings as those contained in the sermon on the 
mountain, in the latter the sayings of Jesus to his dis- 
ciples, or on private occasions, are treasured up. It 
is related in the Gospels that Jesus uttered his para- 
bles on the shore of the lake to the crowds there 
congregated, and that his disciples afterward asked an 
explanation of these somewhat mysterious teachings. 
That was accorded them : " To you it is given to 
know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to 
them it is not given." 

There would seem to be a peculiar fitness in John's 
giving us the picture of his Master's inner life. He 
was the beloved disciple. He came nearest his Mas- 
ter's heart. Christian art has presented to us this 
» young man with the angelic countenance ; a gentle, 
winning man, just emerging from youth to manhood. 
While it is true that Christian art has doubtless erred 
in so depicting John (one of the sons of thunder, 
Jesus called him), nevertheless no figure in the apos- 
tolical college proves so attractive to all people as 
that of John. While Peter is aggressive, and takes 
the place of command in emergency, and while Paul, 


afterward connected with the apostles, is incomparably 
more able to. do the necessary work than any other, 
perhaps than all others combined, we find something 
in John we do not find in these others. Peter may 
represent the truth and period of law, Paul of faith, 
but John is representative of a still future period of 

The ideal John is perhaps widely different from the 
real. We fail to find the ideal man in the three Gos- 
pels. The real John is intense in his devotion to his 
Master; but equally intense in his anger against any- 
thing and anybody found in the opposition. He is not 
even tolerant of that kind of friendship which does not 
drive a man into personal following of Jesus. " Mas- 
ter," he says, " we saw one casting out demons in thy 
name, and we forbade him because he followeth not 
with us." He will make no concessions, and despises 
neutrality. If a man does not belong to Christ, he 
must belong to the enemy. There is no middle ground 
of suspended opinion. An enthusiastic son of thunder 
is he, — not the mild and benignant man it seems that 
he became late in life. There is a tradition that he 
wished to call down fire from heaven upon certain 
Samaritans who were not hospitable to Jesus. (He 
was an ardent hater, — a man who would see his ene- 
mies burn in fireTj 

In the Apocalypse the imagination of the writer runs 
riot in scenes of fire, famine, blood, and earthquake. 
That book is not the production of a mild and gentle 
spirit ; it has not in it the sovereign feeling of Jesus : 
\Forgive your enemies." Experience shows, however, 
that good men, vehement in their goodness, become 
milder as they grow older.") Clement of Alexandria 
tells us how John, grown old, at Ephesus took a spe- 


cial and loving interest in the younger members of 
his flock. He was deeply solicitous for their faith- 
fulness and spiritual welfare. Even if they went 
astray, he did not abandon them, nor excommunicate 
them. One of his young men fell away from the good 
ways of Christ, and became a bandit. He rose to be 
chief of a robber band. (John did not abandon him 
to his evil fate, but succeeded in winning him back to 
truth and righteousness. > After the apostle has be- 
come very old, and incapable of work, when he can no 
longer teach, his spirit is strong within him, and it is 
a spirit of long-suffering love. He is able to do no 
more than sum up the religion of Christ in a few 
words, which he repeats over and over : "\Little chil- 
dren, love one another." Hate has been quenched in 
his breast, and all the simple philosophy of his soul 
is that of love. One can hope that the ghastly and 
grim images which thronged upon his middle life, 
when he was on the island, and when tidings came to 
him from Judea, had altogether faded from him. 

We form our judgments of men by their charac- 
teristic sayings, partly. To all men is attached an in- 
dividuality which distinguishes each from all others} 
While there are strong resemblances, there are dis- 
tinct points of difference. We know the faces of 
our friends, and their gait, and numerous other char- 
acteristics. While men change from ruddy youth to 
pale and gray age, we still recognize them by those 
things in them which are most characteristic. We 
learn to recognize men also by their mental charac- 
teristics. If the last poem of Lord Tennyson were 
attributed, by way of jest, and in all the press, to 
such a man, for example, as Mr. Herbert Spencer, 
those acquainted with these writers would at a glance 


discover the jest. The thought and the style of each 
are as peculiar to himself as his countenance. 

If any person with an appreciation of the meaning 
and use of words were to carefully read the Apoc- 
alypse, and master its contents, so far as they can be 
mastered, and then if he were to read with equal care 
the fourth Gospel, neither scripture having any author's 
name connected with it, he would say with positive 
assurance that the two were not written by the same 
hand. Of course he might be mistaken, but following 
the ordinary common-sense method of discernment, he 
would have no resource but to declare the writings 
produced by different men. v The critics of fifty or 
more years ago were so impressed with this common- 
sense conclusion that they, or some of them, came to 
another conclusion, which is not so obvious. They 
concluded that the fourth Gospel was a forgery, per- 
petrated by some man, possibly of the third century, 
who gave it out as the work of the Apostle John ; and 
in its ignorance the church accepted it as genuine, 
and gave it the sanction of a place in the sacred canon?) 

That is the way it is with many.; If their notions 
in regard to anything are shattered, they seem to re- 
nounce having any notions whatever upon that subject. 
They declare the thing itself to be a falsehood, or a 
deceit. If John did not write the fourth Gospel, it is 
assumed by the impatient thinker, it is a fraud and a 
delusion. If Matthew did not write the first Gospel, 
that is also a falsity. Some high authorities tell us 
that if Moses did not write the Pentateuch, then it 
is all an untruth. This is the feebleness of an im- 
patient and hasty learning. This is resting every- 
thing on some unintelligent assumption. It is parallel 
with supposing that if but one error is detected in 


the Bible, anywhere, — an error which is unexplain- 
able, — then the whole Bible goes to pieces, and is of 
no value. 

If one is able to see the force of the oft-asserted 
statement of John in the Apocalypse, that the things 
there predicted are to take place at once, and sees 
thereby that the writer was mistaken, he is solemnly 
assured that he is destroying the Bible. (Fifty years 
ago there were people still in existence, and possibly 
a few may survive to this day, who felt that if the 
world was not constructed out of nothing, in a week's 
time, then the whole fabric of revelation was under- 
mined. Yet the world, at least, is here, and we stand 
upon it, undismayed at all discoveries in regard to 
its creation. It witnesses to itself with sufficient 
power to command our assent. Is it not so with 
truth ? However it came to be spoken, by whatsoever 
mouth, or written down by whatsoever pen, is it not 
its own most convincing witness? It must be to 
such as are capable of understanding and believing a 

Were the fourth Gospel not written by John, it is a 
foolish alternative to pronounce it a forgery. In re- 
spect to the Epistle to the Hebrews, which in our 
Bibles is called the Epistle of Paul, a critical opinion 
is held by many devout scholars that it is not Paul's 
epistle ; but that opinion does in no wise invalidate 
the writing. (It stands for what it is worthy 
^Ihe book of Eeclesiastes, in the Old Testament, is 
largely supposed to have Solomon for its author ; but, 
as we have seen, there are very strong reasons for 
believing that Solomon never saw it nor heard of it. 
There are marks in it which identify it with a later 
age. There are marks in the fourth Gospel which 

'Authorship of the fourth gospel. 279 

make it all but impossible for John to have been the 
writer of it. Yet that it is " according to John," or 
represents the essential doctrine which was left over 
in John after the failure of his wild visions of plagues 
and judgments and all the like, is very credible. 

Every one is entitled to his hypothesis. The hypoth- 
esis of forgery, or a deceit practiced upon the early 
church may be offset by another more reasonable. 
We may concede that such a man as the Apostle John 
would not only teach the churches of Asia by personal 
ministrations, but that he would draw around him a 
few disciples, to whom he would be able to open his 
mind in the fullest manner. We are informed by 
tradition that he had disciples, peculiarly attached to 
his person, in his later days, — Polycarp, Papias, Ig- 
natius, and probably others. Among the number we 
are at liberty to suppose the presence of some man 
of Greek descent, possibly educated in the schools of 
Alexandria, more or less an adept in the doctrine of 
the Logos. In the earlier half of the first century 
of our era, a philosopher and author had flourished at 
Alexandria, Philo by name, a man who achieved a 
remarkable celebrity. This Alexandrian Jew is said 
to have had a philosophy compounded of Platonism, 
Stoicism, and Pythonism, taken from the Greeks, and 
of Emanationism, borrowed from the East, all of which 
he annexed to the doctrine of the Old Testament. He 
was the mediator between monotheism and polytheism. 
The central point of his philosophy is the doctrine of 
the Logos, or the Word. 

(When we open the fourth Gospel, at its threshold 
we confront the Logos doctrineX It is not necessary 
to suppose that the idea of "Philo is transmitted, 
complete, to the author of the fourth Gospel. In- 


deed, it is difficult to see how so compound a system 
could well be entertained by any one except the com- 
pounder. At all events, its central truth appears in 
the last Gospel. It is not impossible that in his 
maturer years the mind of John may have imbibed 
the sublime views of the Alexandrian, in place of the 
fantastic visions of earlier manhood. It would seem 
impossible, however, that the Jew should have com- 
pletely lost the Jewish method, and have been born 
into a method of expression foreign to him and his 
race. There is nothing strange in supposing that a 
disciple of John, entering most heartily and intelli- 
gently into the real heart of the man and his gospel, 
attaining that profound and at that time difficult doc- 
trine of the Spirit which we see in the fourth Gospel, 
undertook to set forth the real meaning of Jesus, and 
his mission, " according to John." 

Tradition has it that John spent his declining years 
at Ephesus ; and that his friends and followers pressed 
him to give his recollections of the sayings of Jesus. 
Those which were widely current were different from 
those which John rehearsed in his maturity. The 
other evangelists had neglected these most weighty 
things, so that there was danger, as it seemed to the 
elders at Ephesus, that these most important sayings 
of Jesus would be lost to the world. To that effect 
tradition speaks. 

We may not be able to rely on the tradition, but it 
accords with our hypothesis, which I hope is a reason- 
able one. We strain no point in thinking that the 
elders of the Ephesian church must have felt the su- 
periority of these sayings of Jesus over those which 
were everywhere repeated. The religion of Jesus, as it 
was apprehended by the people generally, was a kind 


of body religion. An extreme reverence for the per- 
son of Jesus, coupled with the expectation of seeing 
him come to set up his empire in the world, would nat- 
urally distract attention from his real teachings, and 
go far to neutralize them. It is evident from the tenor 
of the fourth Gospel that this feeling on the part of 
the followers of John at Ephesus went to the extent 
of proposing a kind of antidote for the prevailing 
religion. It is quite possible that John, like other 
men who feel their last days on earth approaching, 
did, as opportunity served, write, in detached portions, 
notes of particular discourses of Jesus. That he should 
remember the exact words of these sayings is in the 
last degree improbable. That he should rather give 
in his own Hebrew method, in detached parts, these 
recollections is more probable. That he should pro- 
pose to some fittest of his followers the work of ar- 
rangement is according to the mode common among 
his people. The work of the editor had been of the 
utmost importance in the history and religion of the 
Jews. In the fourth Gospel we seem to have the fore- 
most specimen of editorship in the Bible, or perhaps in 
all literature. This is not a thing to be affirmed with 
the confidence one would have in affirming the correct- 
ness of an addition or a multiplication in arithmetic, 
carefully revised. It is the kind of hypothesis which 
we are accustomed to make to see if we can account 
for a phenomenon. Now, when we come to the end 
of the fourth Gospel we find a kind of a postscript. 
This postscript is like the indorsement of a committee : 
" This is the disciple which beareth witness of these 
/ things, and wrote these things, and we (the committee) 
/ know that this witness is true." An author would not 
speak in that way about himself, of course. 


The work of reducing those sayings of Jesus which 
John remembered, and in which his faith grew great 
in his later days, was committed to others. These 
others would in turn commit the chief labor of arrange- 
ment, and of composition, to that one of their number 
best fitted by education, and by sympathy with the sub- 
ject, to do the work. In the main, the critics tell us, 
the work is by one hand. This editor, however, does 
not content himself with stringing together, as may 
happen, the fragmentary writings of John, — he pro- 
poses to be an editor who edits. The conversations of 
the aged apostle he may find of more importance than 
the fragments of his writing ; moreover, he is a man 
possessed of his own personal feelings and philosophy. 
He has his idea of Jesus, and he has his philosophy, 
learned of Philo Judseus. In place of that genealogy 
of Jesus, which may very well have seemed to him, 
with his exalted conception of the mission of the Son 
of God, to be flat and childish, he puts forth the sub- 
lime postulate of the Logos. Jesus, to be sure, was 
born and took his beginning in the world as others of 
the children of men did. But what about the Spirit 
of which John, in his last days, had so much to say ? 
Had that a beginning ? Ah ! that was in the begin- 
ning with God. That was God. It was that which 
had become flesh, in Jesus, and manifested God to 
men. So his prologue, almost identical with the doc- 
trine of Philo, does not necessarily represent John, 
for it came not from Jesus but from Philo ; and it is 
the key of the fourth Gospel. In this Gospel we are 
not interested in the person of Jesus so much as in 
the Spirit which guided him. It is the spirit, not the 
flesh, which profiteth. 

Perhaps a question will arise as to the profound 


change which transpired in John. Certainly it was a 
most profound change which happened to him. The 
belligerent apostle ; the seer of Patmos, driven almost 
wild with grief at the calamities of his nation, attempt- 
ing to play over again the part of the Maccabean 
prophet, and saturated with the popular notion about 
the return of Jesus, in the clouds — very quickly ; 
how could he become the benignant father of the Ephe- 
sian church, and the advocate of the Spirit ? It is such 
a change in him, under the circumstances, as we might 
reasonably expect. Not a change in method of writing 
so that he could possibly write the fourth Gospel, but 
a change from the apostle of the flaming advent to the 
apostle of the Spirit. Jesus did not come ; the holy 
angels did not fly in the sky ; and while plagues devas- 
tated the earth in some portions, the visions of the 
Apocalypse were in no degree realized. Would not 
this failure to a man who loved and believed in Jesus, 
in spite of everything, prompt him to seek for a better 
interpretation of Jesus ? Would not this seeking lead 
to a finding? Would not those sayings of Jesus, 
which had made so little impression, even upon him- 
self, now be brought more vividly to his mind ? The 
man who has been most thoroughly in the glamour 
of the second advent is the one of all others to learn 
a profound distrust of it; that is, provided he is a 
seeker for truth, and not the mere advocate of a 
scheme. It is the enthusiastic and devoted man who 
goes to an extreme, as John did ; and when he finds his 
error, he is likely to go as far away from it as possi- 
ble. (.He who has found no redemption of the world 
by means of outward displays, but only in a renuncia- 
tion of our own interior evil, will cheapen all outward- 
ness, and declare nothing of worth, except the spirit. 


It is impossible even to hint at the many opinions 
of this fourth Gospel which have been held by wise 
men. They have been as diverse as possible. One 
cannot take the time to examine the reasons why a 
particular scholar should deem the prologue of the 
Gospel as characteristically the work of the Apostle 
John, while others see in it exactly the opposite. It 
will suffice for our purpose to see simply the fact that 
this fourth Gospel is peculiarly the Gospel of the 
Spirit. It is a distinct modification of the Gospels of 
the body, as we may call them, which precede it. It 
introduces, as of the highest import, and makes large, 
that which is small in the preceding evangelists. New 
incidents come in, but their arrangement is of second- 
ary importance. The author does not care for them 
except for the purpose of building his structure of 
"sayings." Not only is it true that the incidents 
are dealt with loosely, but they are dealt with inac- 
curately. As Matthew Arnold has pointed out, the 
writer speaks as if he did not know the relative 
position of the cities of Judea. He places Bethany 
beyond the Jordan. He talks of the " manner of the 
Jews." He says that such an one was high priest that 
year, as if that office were annual, which it was not at 
that time. He is manifestly foreign to the drapery of 
his subject ; but then he does not care for the drap- 
ery. He cares for the spirit of the subject. Thus he 
neglects the things the other writers have taken the 
most pains with ; and in particular he dismisses that 
subject which was uppermost in their minds, — the 
second advent. The one great subject they had neg- 
lected, namely, the subject of the Spirit of truth, he 

Here is the creation ; and here also, as part of it, is 


the human mind to contemplate it. What shall we 
think about this creation ? Is or is there not a Crea- 
tor ? Does the Creator take any means of manifest- 
ing himself? Has he anything to say to us? Is there 
any way by which we can discover his location, or 
in any wise approach him or get speech with him ? 
These are questions which not only the philosopher, 
but the plain thinker would wish to ask. The Jew, 
such an one as John the apostle, would have his answer 
to these questions, but they would not be the answers 
of the prologue of the fourth Gospel. He would say 
that there is a Creator of this world, and of the stars 
of heaven; that this Creator does manifest himself 
to men through prophets and wise men ; that he has 
caused his will to be written, and thus has he spoken. 
Here are the sacred oracles containing words of God. 
The writer of the fourth Gospel, however, goes far 
beyond any such concept of things. ■ To him all crea- 
tion, and every part of it, and from the very begin- 
ning, is speech of the Creator. The Creator speaks 
by creation. 

To him God is not a being sunk in slumber, as an 
Oriental philosophy declares ; nor is God a creator 
who creates from a distance. The sublime old thought, 
"Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night 
showeth knowledge/' commands his assent. A day, the 
sky, the mountains, the sea, and all things are divine 
expressions. More than that: the Word which has 
always been with God and is God becomes the rocks 
of the world, the waters of the oceans, the stars of the 
sky, and in due process becomes flesh, and dwells 
among us, full of grace and truth. Nothing is made 
without that Word. Jesus certainly did not build 
the worlds, but that manifesting Spirit, which became 


flesh in him, has always been uttering God.) This is 
the fundamental idea of the fourth Gospel. 
(Herder, one of the founders of modern German lit- 
erature, says that the fourth Gospel " is the echo of the 
earlier Gospels, in a higher key.^' * They are keyed 
to flesh and sense, in some measure. They bind us to 
incredibilities, and unless we are cautious, make us 
superstitious. In them an unnatural order is made to 
play a ruling part, (in the fourth Gospel the natural 
order is restored, and takes its place as divine?) It is 
true we have still the miracles, some of them not 
recorded in the synoptics, but they are always subor- 
dinate. We must not expect a writer of those times 
to be free from the notion of miracles ; but the writer 
of the fourth Gospel does not care for the miracle 
(the story of which has floated down to him), so 
much as for the lesson and spirit of every incident he 
uses, (it is this fourth Gospel which above all other 
books really preserves for us the religion of Jesus?) It 
delivers us a message which, in our doubting times 
of religious transition, gives rest and peace to our 

J 1 Pfleiderer, Development of Theology. 



{ An age of comparative freedom, or of awakened 
thought, is also an age of great diversity of opinion. 
If any powerful impulse is at any time given to 
thinking, an inevitable variety shows itself. (If people 
are left in ignorance, only as they are kept in ig- 
norance is there unity of opinion.^ When the think- 
ing of a community is let out to some one person, 
there is no difference of opinion. .Indeed, it may al- 
most be said there is no opinion. 

(jThe work of Jesus was moral and religious in the 
truest sense ; and yet by it a great impetus was given 
to thinking, especially to those of the most active 
minds. The age which begins to think in a new way 
is an age of stir, and is likely to be an age of revolu- 
tion. Such an age was that of the beginning of the 
Christian era. 

Among the disciples of Jesus were a few men of 
strong intellectual force) It would of course be too 
much to say of any of the apostles that they were 
men of an independent way of thinking. On the 
contrary, they were men whose capacity for thinking 
had not been developed. The fisherman, the tax- 
collector, and the peasants were all involved in the 
settled modes of thought, or of so-called thought, of 
their time and place ; there was cast into their minds 
new seed sown by a divine thinker. Although this 



new element was not immediately productive of result, 
in process of time it became a powerful force in the 

Just what the relation of Paul of Tarsus was to 
the earlier disciples and apostles of Jesus it is very 
difficult to determine. Certainly we do not err in 
recognizing him as different from the other apostles, 
not only in temperament and character, but in a 
marked degree in education and in native force of 
mind. They were more like sheep, adapted to follow 
a shepherd ; he more like a shepherd, fitted to lead 
the sheep ; and it - is significant that he worked out 
his problem of the religion of Jesus by himself. He 
did not refer his difficulties to them for solution. 

e says that he did not confer with flesh and bloocW 
He had already received a training in the use of his 
mental powers, which enabled him to be independent 
of human sources. 

Were we to attempt a chronological arrangement of 
the experience of the apostle to the Gentiles, it would 
perhaps be something like this : being on the road to 
Damascus, in the enterprise of persecuting the new 
religion, he is stricken with a sudden blow, is shocked 
out of his old pursuits, becomes a convert to Jesus, 
and goes on to Damascus. From Damascus he does 
not go back to Jerusalem to consult with the leaders 
of the Christian community there, but retires into 
Arabia. What he did in Arabia is a matter of no 
public concern ; the common inference is that he re- 
tired into solitude, to ponder the subject in its depths. 
Then, after three years, he returns to Jerusalem, and 
there abides with Peter for fifteen days. He sees 
none of the other disciples except James, but he has 
nothing to do with the churches of the region. ( He 


grasps the idea of a world-wide religion. He proposes 
to cut loose from the trammels of Judaism, and carry 
his message to the nations. 

This manifests the breadth of his mind, and his 
comprehension of the religion of Jesus. If Jesus 
did say, as he is reported to have said, that he was 
not sent save unto the lost sheep of the house of Is- 
rael, Paul did not hear of it, or, having heard, did not 
believe it. His mind and heart are set on more com- 
prehensive things : he will leave Israel and go to the 
Gentiles. Accordingly he proceeds to Upper Syria 
and Cilicia, where he prosecutes his work on the new 

Meanwhile Peter has broadened. He is in a lim- 
ited way thrown into contact with Gentiles, and reluc- 
tantly recognizes them as subject to the mercy and 
promise of God, but he feels that the case demands 
utmost caution. Peter is brave, but he will not en- 
danger anything by haste. He has neither the cour- 
age nor the greatness of mind to enable him to 
abandon Judaism. It is perhaps better that he has 
not. In fact, as to the essential truth of it, Paul 
himself never did break with Judaism, but only with 
its formal observances, its rites of consecration and 
sacrifice. Judaism is the root out of which naturally 
grows the plant of the religion of Jesus ; but this 
root had produced chaff as well as wheat. Jesus win- 
nowed the grain out of the chaff ; so in a degree did 
Paul, and so in a lesser degree did Peter. 

Differences of opinion arose between Paul and the 
other apostles. It was natural that they should look 
upon him with suspicion. His " call " to be an apos- 
tle was not one they would be likely to recognize. 
Jesus had not called him as he had called them ; it 


was the Spirit of Jesus which had called him. He 
felt the call in his soul ; he had no outward call. 
Finally, however, the chief apostles, James, Peter, 
and John, " reputed to be pillars " of the new church, 
gave Paul and his colaborer, Barnabas, the "right 
hand of fellowship," and they departed on their way 
rejoicing. Yet there was a difference which drove 
the apostles asunder. Peter, being politic, did some- 
thing at Antioch which roused the indignation of 
Paul. Peter found friends at Antioch, and was on 
pleasant and familiar terms with them, eating at their 
tables. When friends of James, the strict construc- 
tionist, came from Jerusalem, Peter drew away from 
his Gentile friends, and declined to eat at their tables. 
He conducted himself as a Jew, not because of con- 
science, but because of policy. Such action failed to 
command the respect of Paul, but roused his indigna- 
tion, and he withstood Peter, chief of the apostles, to his 
face. Peter was a " pillar of the church," but Paul 
did not care for that. It was more important for even 
a pillar of the church to be sincere in his conduct than 
for him to be successful, and avoid scandal. There- 
fore Paul asked Peter a question : " Why do you seek 
to make the Gentiles conform to Jewish usage ? " He 
who believes in Jesus Christ is free from that usage. 
In this is indicated the beginning of a separation into 
two great parties of the Christian church : Paul, with 
his doctrine of freedom, leading in one direction ; 
James and others with their doctrine of the "works 
of the law," — the ceremonies, circumcision, and the 
rest, — leading in another direction. 

Paul and Barnabas, however, being of one mind 
for the time, went on their Gentile mission. Yet even 
they were not free from differences of opinion, and 


Luke tells us, in his simple-minded way, that on one 
occasion they parted, after having a sharp conten- 
tion. Such were the divisions and subdivisions among 
these early promoters of the gospel of Jesus. It is 
well for any one who would know the Bible not to 
overlook its difficulties; not to evade the facts, but 
to try to understand them. If, in our endeavor to 
understand them, we suffer the distress of seeing the 
unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace broken, nev- 
ertheless even that gives us its valuable lesson. 

From such men as John and James, not to say 
Peter, take away the stimulating presence and daily 
contact of Jesus, and there may easily come a re- 
lapse from the truth of his teaching. Paul could go 
alone, without the consent or countenance of anybody, 
but they were not of such strong stuff. And there 
resulted something of mutual distrust. This distrust 
speaks for the intellectual activity of the time. It 
tells us that while good men could not think alike, 
they could at least think to some purpose. The 
progressive man was obstructed by the conservative 
men. Hints of this we get in the epistles of Paul, 
and elsewhere. It is well known that the Hebrew 
Christians, especially those of Jerusalem and Judea, 
were under a strong conservative influence. They 
demanded of heathens that they should become Jews 
in order to be Christians ; they should submit to the 
rite of circumcision. It came to be noised abroad 
that Paul made no such terms with heathens; the 
leaders of the church at Jerusalem sent out some 
of their number to investigate that matter. Paul 
boldly and somewhat harshly calls these brethren 
spies. They were trying to spy out this liberty of 
which Paul was an apostle. He would not yield to 
them, no, not for an hour. 


He would go his way, — they should go theirs. 
Moreover, Paul manifestly rejects all authority of the 
leading men at Jerusalem, no matter what their repu- 
tation or high place may be. John and James and 
Cephas are to him by no means infallible men. They 
are not only liable to be mistaken, but he points out 
their error. (Note, then, that to these founders of the 
religion of Jesus, after the departure of Jesus, there 
is no notion of the infallibility of an apostle.) Paul does 
not dream that they are infallible, and they certainly 
do not dream that he is ; yet they all had to do, 
directly or indirectly, with the making of some por- 
tion of the contents of the Bible!) The Reformation 
theory of the infallibility of the Scriptures finds a 
most scanty proof in the pages of the Bible itself, 
but there is much to disprove it. The fact that the 
apostles made attacks upon each other furnishes a 
startling evidence of the fallibility of all concerned. 

Paul claimed to be an apostle of Jesus : the claim 
was disputed. At one time he seems to maintain that 
his accusers are over-apostolic, taking too much upon 
themselves, etc. He reaches the summit of severity 
when he talks of these conservatives, probably num- 
bering among them some of the Jerusalem apostles ; 
but they are equally severe in their judgment of him 
and his work. It was natural for them, because they 
cared so much for some formulas and usages, that they 
should be harsh to a man who had outgrown their 
formulas. (In fact, there is nothing in the whole 
history of the founding of the church which does not 
testify to its naturalness by showing how ambitions 
and notions ruled then, very much as they have ruled 

Paul propounds the doctrine of justification by faith. 


He lays it down in the form of an elaborate argument, 
and illustrates it historically: Abraham was justified 
not by works, but by faith. Paul is ready to dispense 
with all rites, and to say that circumcision, which is 
outward in the flesh, is of no value. Not works but 
faith is Paul's great dogma. This was not accepted 
by the Jerusalem party ; it awakened their strong dis- 
sent. Of this dissent the Epistle of James apprises 
us. "Was not Abraham justified by faith?" asks 
Paul. The Epistle of James answers, " What doth 
it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, 
but have not works ? " Can faith save him ? " Was 
not Abraham our father justified by works in that 
he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar ? " Now 
it may be supposed that James means by " works " 
those deeds of righteousness which have nothing to 
do with ceremonial performances ; but he points here 
to a work of sacrifice which belongs to the ceremonial 
order. Abraham offers his son upon the altar. He 
is justified by that act, his faith led him to it ; and 
faith without works (such works) is dead. Here, 
then, is James, the righteous man (probably not 
the apostle of that name), who distinctly opposes 
Paul in a letter to the whole of Israel. Paul 
maintains that Abraham was justified by faith, apart 
from works, and James contends that Abraham was 
justified by works. Here is an issue, and it was be- 
cause of this issue between Paul and James that the 
great reformer Luther wished to cast aside the Epistle 
of James. He saw the real superiority of the doc- 
trine of Paul ; he had no patience with the conserva- 
tism of James. Truly, if the Bible were to be re- 
garded infallible, the Epistle of James and other such 
material should have been kept out of it. But the 


Epistle of James, while it has its defects, has its great 
value. Moreover, the apostle to the Gentiles is not 
without his defects ; he does not claim to be without 
them, but confesses them. 

In that portion of the New Testament known as 
the Second Epistle of Peter, certain of Paul's writings 
are characterized as hard to understand and liable 
to divert the unstable from the truth. This may, or 
may not, represent the feeling of the Apostle Peter. 
John may well have reference to Paul, in his mes- 
sages to the seven churches of Asia. He speaks to 
the Ephesians of persons who had called themselves 
apostles. He severely animadverts upon the eating of 
meat offered to idols, which Paul had taught was en- 
tirely harmless in itself. He denounces God's fiery 
judgments upon those who are misled by such un-Jew- 
ish teachings. 

These, and more instances which might be adduced, 
sufficiently show the diversity of opinion, rising to the 
point of violent denunciation, which obtained among 
the first apostles. These are not things to be pru- 
dently hidden, or explained away, but to be considered 
in all their bearings. With such facts staring us in 
the face, we must seek a better idea than the Refor- 
mation has furnished of the real nature of the Bible. 
Men's opinions are not infallible. Inspired men are 
subject to the same infirmities which other men have. 
They may misjudge each other ; may fail, as the apos- 
tles did fail, to heartily cooperate in their work. 

If the matter were left there, — and many critics do 
leave it there, seeing only the evidences of frailty and 
blunder in these men of the Bible, — much would be 
lost. There seems to me to be a grand proof of the 
divinity of the Bible, its divine purpose and mission, in 


connection with these very things. When men meet 
on friendly terms and agree to cooperate in any great 
work, and for the most part find themselves in sympa- 
thy and accord, they will subordinate many individual 
preferences, and perhaps some individual convictions, 
to the " cause " in which they are engaged. A dis- 
tinction of one of the great Christian churches of the 
world lies in its unity. It is catholic, and in a way 
comprehensive, and individual notions are subordi- 
nate to the interest of the organizations. Perhaps 
men of more than ordinary intelligence can be per- 
mitted to entertain their personal opinions on many or 
most subjects, but it would be harmful to permit a 
public assertion of them. Such methods, however, 
always suppress truth. Unity is desirable in the last 
degree. That we should all be one family, and have 
one religion, and one faith, and one spirit, is certainly 
a consummation to be devoutly hoped for; but such 
unity will not come by suppression : it will come by 
free expression of differences.) 

If, now, we regard the fourth Gospel as " according 
to John," representing his wisest and best days, we 
may perhaps be startled by the fact that the highest 
of John and the highest of Paul are one thing. These 
two who may have been opposed to each other, teaching 
doctrines the one against the other, yet arrive at the 
point where they see chiefly one truth, and in this they 
are united. It may be that John had warned the 
churches of Asia against Paul, as one of those who 
called themselves apostles, and were not. The iden- 
tification of Paul with the object of John's attack 
seems sufficiently clear if we remember that Paul had 
called the eating of meat offered in sacrifice to idols 
a harmless thing. John writes to the church at Per- 


gamum, as well as the church at Thyatira, in stern 
condemnation of such teachings. He mentions no 
names ; it is not his habit to do that. John is nar- 
row, and Paul is broader. 

The narrow man and the broad man tell us at last 
the same story, and it is the story of the Spirit. Paul 
says that whensoever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon 
the heart of the hearer. He cannot see the real 
meaning of Moses. Why ? Because he is bound by 
the letter or the writing of Moses ; but, adds the 
apostle to the Gentiles, whensoever the man shall 
turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Very well, 
who is the Lord ? Let us see if we can gain the hint 
which Paul gives. We can easily see how much of 
the Mosaic Scripture was concerning things which 
have no particular relation to a man's moral conduct or 
his spiritual life. Here, for example, is the book of 
Leviticus, which belongs to the books of Moses. Mi- 
nute instructions in regard to things of no importance 
are there given, — ritual, the cult, the performance of 
ceremonies ; altars, priests, robes, things outward, and 
tending to outwardness. When Moses was read, these 
things were read. 

Now the real spirit of Moses is not found in these 
regulations, but in truths which belong to our inner 
life, our relations with God and each other. However, 
every Sabbath day Moses was read in the synagogues, 
and a veil rested upon the heart of the hearer. Now 
Paul declared that when the hearer turned to the Lord, 
the veil would vanish. Well, were not the Jews always 
turning to the Lord ? Was not that their distinction ? 
Alas ! no ; for, as Paul goes on to say, the Lord he 
is talking about is the Spirit. That which is properly 
of authority in Moses is the spirit of his teaching, 


not the letter of it ; and as for Moses, and all teach- 
ers, the commanding fact is not that they wrote this 
or that, but that there was truth in what they said. 
The Lord of all is not a visible God, having a man's 
name, but the Spirit ; and where the Spirit is, there 
is liberty. More than that : " We all, with unveiled 
face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, 
are transformed into the same image from glory to 
glory, as from the Spirit, which is the Lord." 

All this in Paul corresponds with John in his ma- 
turer years. It agrees with that saying of Jesus which 
the other evangelists failed to note : "It is expedient 
for you that I go away, for if I go not away the Spirit 
will not come ; " it corresponds with the axiomatic 
teachings of Jesus which all the evangelists give us. 
The outward is principal, it may be, in the three 
evangelists, but the inward is there as well. For when 
Jesus, in the synoptics, tells the Jews to make clean 
the inside of the cup and platter, and that those who 
seek for the Holy Spirit shall receive the Holy Spirit ; 
when he tells of the Good Samaritan, and speaks of 
fasting and the Sabbath, the strain is the same as 
that of Paul and the fourth Gospel. The things 
which come from the unclean heart, they are the 
things which defile, but eating with unwashed hands 
is nothing ; the kingdom of heaven is within you ; 
judge not according to the appearance, but judge 
righteous judgment, — all these words of Jesus, given 
in the synoptics, are exactly in line of the maturer 
judgment of Paul and John ; and these are the very 
things which are in line with the better judgment of 
everybody ; they prove themselves.^; 

We are accustomed to the notion that the Jews 
somehow made a great mistake in their religion. 


They were all astray ; the proof is that they rejected 
Jesus. How were they astray ? If we say that they 
were unfaithful to their trust and did not live in 
accordance with their religion, we shall do them an 
injustice. For Paul, who seems to be an unprejudiced 
witness, bears testimony that they were religious, 
according to their method, and very zealous ; but he 
finds fault with their method. " They went about to 
establish their righteousness, which was of the law." 
The law, as it had come down to them, was largely a 
commandment about performances. They tried un- 
successfully to establish a righteousness on that basis, 
and, in the nature of the case, that is impossible. 
The real mistake of the Jews is the mistake of the 
Christians as well. It shows itself in such a passage 
as that in Matthew, about the Son of Man sitting 
upon the throne of his glory, and gathering the na- 
tions to judgment. It shows itself in the promise to 
the twelve that they should sit on thrones of judgment. 
As if the world could be made better by having the 
Son of Man seated on a throne; or as if the twelve 
tribes could be made better by having the apostles 
on thrones. Against all this outward business, be it 
what it might, it was the work of Jesus to protest. It 
is in his protest against these things, as well as in his 
positive teachings of the blessedness of the good life 
and the good heart, that Jesus is identified. The 
spirit is all. Out of the evil heart proceed the miseries 
and ills of the world. Out of the heart which changes 
from evil to good proceed the blessings of the world .) 
It is in this good heart, this repentant heart, this life 
of inward truth and rectitude, that God, who is a 
Spirit, works the works of creation. 

Some one wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. In 


that there is a mass of reference to priesthoods and 
sacrifices, and all the like. It was adapted to the 
Hebrew, for whom it was intended ; but for us it is 
dross. Mixed with the dross glitters the gold of 
truth. There was an outward law engraved on stone 
tablets ; that passes away. With its departure comes 
a new covenant, the covenant of the inward law, which 
is engraved on our inward life. The fastings and 
mortifications, the sacrifices and altars, belong to a 
period which ought to pass away. To do the outward 
things of worship belongs to the old childish order. 
To be inwardly bent upon righteousness is to belong 
to the new order; and that is the real order. 1 
QThus it is the spirit, or inward life of man, with 
which the Spirit of God has to do.i To that agree all 
the prophets and apostles. So long as the body, 
letter, formula, or other outward thing fills the field of 
faith, the Spirit is excluded. Wherefore, beneath all 
the superficial show of disorder and disagreement in 
the evangelists and apostles, their disputes about meat 
offered to idols and circumcision, and their ambitions 
concerning places in the coming kingdom, there is a 
unity ; f and in that unity we may discover the gold of 
their real subject-matter^ 

1 That the men of faith who lived under the old order really 
belonged to the new is attested by the words of Jesus : " Your 
father Abraham rejoiced to see my day," etc. 



What is religion ? A host of answers may be offered, 
but all may resolve into two : both advocate and ad- 
versary may answer that religion is a doing of some- 
thing by which God, or the Superior Power, is affected 
in feeling toward us. This answer comes out of human 
experience. We may well conceive that the experi- 
ence of primitive men who were conscious of having 
done ill caused them to feel that something must be 
offered to the gods to avert disaster, or retribution. 
The doing of this, which ultimately takes the form of 
sacrifice, is religion. Thus religion springs out of a 
sentiment in us that we are ill-deserving, and out of 
an imagination that if we have done ill there is some 
way of averting the due retribution. All the part of 
religion which belongs to sacrifice, or a propitiation of 
the anger of God, rests upon the imagination. It is 
because of the prevalence of the sacrificial idea in re- 
ligion that many men of strong judgment have rejected 
it. The sacrifice of a beast on an altar, or of a Son 
of God upon the cross, for the purpose of averting just 
retribution from any one, is seen to rest upon a purely 
imaginary basis. Not only so, but it belongs to the 
less developed imagination : the imagination of the 
man who is trained in reasoning does not respond 
to it. 

Suppose we say that religion is not a matter of the 


imagination, but of the heart ; that however much the 
imagination may be concerned in it, the man who turns 
from that which is evil to that which is good is really 
the religious man ; we may be the better able to under- 
stand some of the things which the Bible has to say 
to us. " With the heart man belie veth unto right- 
eousness ; " that is to say, in striving to obey the de- 
mands of right, in striving to go clear from the rule of 
evil, one is living a religious life in the true sense of 
the term. Of course such a man may be more or less 
confused in his ideas of right and wrong, may be far 
astray in his reasonings ; but be he who he may, wise 
or simple, he is truly religious. 

It seems to have been natural that religion should 
have been regarded as for the most part theological, or 
mainly concerned with our relations with God. Tem- 
ples, altars, votive gifts, vows, and all the parapher- 
nalia of religion have hitherto been strictly Godward. 
The priest or medicine-man has been our agent to 
adjust things between us and God. Having in some 
manner achieved that adjustment, all is done that need 
be done. Yet a change comes, involving religion : 
while some fear that religion will disappear, others 
perceive that it is undergoing that change which per- 
petually increases its reasonableness and usefulness 
and decreases its futility ; because the old theological 
religion does, more than all else, demonstrate its futil- 
ity. Now it appears to have been conceived by some 
of the early Christians that religion is not theological, 
or Godward, chiefly, but sociological, or manward. 
Changes do not need to be effected in God. It would 
be better to accept outright the dogma of the Hebrew 
prophet that God is the unchangeable. Changes in 
man, and in his conditions, and in the mutual relations 


of men, are the very things which are required, in the 
nature of things. It is therefore hopeful to observe 
that in our own times religion is undergoing the most 
serious modification, — it is shifting its ground from 
the theological to the sociological aspect of things. -> — ' 

This shifting of the ground is anticipated by some 
of the wiser of the early Christians. Indeed, it is the 
natural result of the teachings of Jesus, when those 
teachings are understood. It comes from ceasing to 
think of God as a transcendent Being stationed aloft 
above nature, and learning to think of him as im- 
manent in nature. (j[t comes ultimately from faith in 
a Being who immediately works in every department 
of force and matter. Of this change from the theo- 
logical to the sociological religion we see evidences in 
James, the writer of a Christian epistle, whose contri- 
bution to the Bible is characterized more by practical 
common-sense than by flights of imagination. It is 
this writer who says, "Pure religion and undefiled 
before our God and Father is this, to visit the father- 
less and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself 
unspotted from the world."^ Or, the religion which 
meets the approval of God seeks chiefly to better hu- 
man conditions. 

As to James, the author of this epistle, he is one of 
three or four of that name, some of whom we catch 
but passing glimpses of in the Gospels. The first 
James whose, acquaintance we make is the son of 
Zebedee, one of the twelve, and the brother of the 
Apostle John. The second is James the son of 
Alphseus, also one of the twelve, and. possibly brother 
of Matthew the publican, the name of whose father 
is Alphaeus. There is also a James rather mysteri- 
ously spoken of as the " brother of the Lord j " and 


there is "James the Just," a citizen of Jerusalem. 
It was surmised by Luther that still another James 
existed, and that this other was the author of the 
epistle. Like Luther, we are left somewhat to sur- 
mise ; but the most reasonable surmise is that James 
the Just is the author. The man who could properly 
bear such a noble title would be the one to write such 
a letter. It is supposed that James the son of Zebedee 
was beheaded by Herod a few years after the martyr- 
dom of Stephen, and before the letter could have been 

Now the writer of that letter, as compared with 
Paul, had a limited horizon. He addressed his letter 
only to the Israelites. To the mind of emancipated 
Paul, circumcision was nothing but a formal ceremony, 
and had ceased to signify anything. To the mind of 
James, circumcision was a commandment of Jehovah. 
It was to be practiced, not because we find it necessary, 
or because it is in any wise useful, but because God 
commanded it. It is thus many good men seem to 
think about immersion and other forms of baptism, — 
we would not practice such ceremonies unless they 
were divinely commanded. Inasmuch as we have the 
commandment, we are assured that it becomes a part 
of righteousness to perform the rite. Paul was less 
solicitous than others about such commandments. He 
wanted to know the reasons for them, and whether 
they were binding in their nature to all time. Having 
satisfied himself that they were not, he had little use 
for them. Paul, however, became a man of the world: 
James was the man of Jerusalem. His sympathy 
could stretch as far as the seed of Abraham, or that 
portion of it included in the covenant of Abraham. 
Further than that he was not prepared to go ; but of 


the real essence of Israel's religion he had nevertheless 
the true idea. To him, Jesus was a Jew, and had never 
ceased to be such ; but to Paul, Jesus was a man, and 
with his mission commensurate with the human family, 
not with the family of Abraham alone. James gloried 
in his lineage. Paul declared that though a Hebrew 
of the Hebrews, and of the tribe of Benjamin, and 
circumcised the eighth day, after the regular order, he 
counted such things as mere refuse, compared with 
other things. 

So then James has the limitations which Paul 
does not share : nor is he limited in respect to one 
class of subjects alone. In many ways he shows a 
narrowness. He has not been able to comprehend the 
meaning and blessedness of faith. \For a man to be- 
lieve in God is no great achievement. Demons believe 
that God is ; but they are not thereby improved. To 
believe things is a matter of theory, or speculation ; 
and one who lays emphasis on belief lives a life as it 
were in the air. It is very much, as he explains, like 
telling a hungry and naked man, who applies for help, 
to be clad and fed. It is a kind of mind-cure for 
poverty: he thinks it absurd. To feed the hungry 
and clothe the naked, and to do the things of charity 
in general ; to speak soberly and with genuine sweet- 
ness, that is what is necessary. . " What doth it profit, 
my brethren, if a man say he has faith, and has not 
works?" Faith is visionary to this man ; and yet he 
has it. Only he does not comprehend what is said 
about it by such a man as Paul. This doctrine of 
being justified by faith does not meet his approval. 
A man is justified by what he does. If he is com- 
manded to sacrifice his qnly son on the altar, and 
proceeds to do it, he is justified. Rahab of Jericho 


was justified by taking care of the Hebrew men 
who demanded protection. She was not a person of 
stainless character : on the contrary, a fallen woman ; 
but by her works was made a just woman. Paul 
elevates faith above works, James the Just elevates 
works above faith. Each has his point of view ; each 
honestly speaks from that point. 

What chiefly distinguishes this just man, this strict 
man of Jerusalem, is his feeling that religion is 
mainly the regulation of our social relations. The 
sacrifices have their importance, but fall nevertheless 
to a secondary place. He is troubled by the disparity 
of condition among the children of Israel. There are 
the poor, who are suffering their poverty, their life 
embittered by it; and over against them the rich, 
who enjoy the good things of life, and oppress the 
poor. This is of vastly more importance to this good 
man than anything that Paul can say about the sin 
of Adam, and the consequent sinning of all his de- 
scendants, and the passing of death upon all for that 
reason. That is in the region of speculation or the 
realm of " faith," and James the Just is impatient 
with that whole department of thought. If James 
were our contemporary, possibly he would object to it 
all as belonging to the field of dogma. The president 
of a great college and a representative of conservative 
thought has said : " Now I say, I dare to say, would 
to God that men would heed me, that if I must choose 
between life and dogma, I will say that Christianity is 
not a life, but a dogma. You cannot live the Christian 
life without holding the Christian dogma. The one 
emanates solely from the other. This dogma's great 
supposition is that man is a sinner, and that without 
the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. Its 



great fact is that Jesus was the propitiation for our 
sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the 
whole world." 1 

It is conceivable that James the Just would have 
even less patience with that than with justification by 
faith ; and I am sure that Paul, after all his argumen- 
tation about sin introduced by Adam, and death as 
consequence, would maintain Christianity to be a life. 
He seems to forever dispute our learned conservative 
by his ringing words, — " For me to live is Christ." 
Our learned conservative, who tells us that Christianity 
(if one has to choose), is not a life but a dogma, would 
go far to rouse the wrath of James the Just, who is 
endeavoring to clear the mind of Israel from mischiev- 
ous notions of that sort. The theological aspects of 
religion he diligently seeks to replace by the sociolo- 
gical aspects. " See," he says, " how it is with the poor 
and with the rich." The social condition, actual not 
theoretical, fills his soul with grief and indignation. 
Such a respect of persons, such sycophancy on the part 
of the poor, such haughty pride and vanity on the part 
of the rich, as may be seen in the synagogue itself, 
he cannot bear. He asks if God cares for the rich, 
more than for the poor. Visions of harvests, owned 
by the rich, and reaped by the poor, and the wages 
withheld, torture him. It is all unjust, and he in the 
soul of him is just ; therefore it is unendurable. (A 
sturdy democrat is he ; a man of practical common- 
sense, and of a warm and indignant heart. ^ He is far 
more concerned with the evil conditions of Israel's re- 
ligion, and its social life, than with the new notions of 
faith which are beginning to make themselves known. 

1 Baccalaureate Address of President Patton, Princeton, May 
7, 1891. 


Those notions are of great consequence and will bring 
result in due time, but the time is too serious in its 
delinquencies, in its corruption of religion, to permit 
him to think of a doctrine of faith. 

There is another thing of interest to us, and that is 
the feeling which this just man had in regard to the 
second advent. He could not have been unfamiliar 
with the current interest in that matter; but here 
again his common-sense and his abounding interest 
in the social state of Israel led him to modify the pop- 
ular idea. James does probably look for a coming 
of Jesus in the clouds, but more clearly sees a violent 
revolution coming on earth ; he is very sure that is 
coming, and shows his sagacity in taking the common- 
sense view ; he proclaims the judge at the door, rather 
than as coming in the sky ; he waxes vehement in his 
denunciations of the careless levity and corruption of 
the rich. They are preparing revolution. This is the 
sort of prophet who might have cried to the landed 
gentry of France in the middle of the last century, 
44 Weep and howl for the miseries which are surely 
coming upon you." It is the social maladjustment, 
rather than the coming angels, which will cause the 
fiery and terrible days ; and they are not far away. 
This man speaks more in the tone of the ancient pro- 
phets than does Paul. He sees a threatened ruin. 
Neither fear nor favor restrains him from utterance 
of the truth as he sees it, — a most brave and faithful 
man, scorning all such notions as are conveyed by the 
modern saying that if one has to choose, Christianity 
is not a life but a dogma. To him the whole matter 
is one of vital meaning; that is, a matter of life and 

The descendants of Abraham are destroying them- 


selves and their heritage by their bad living. It is 
evil conduct which makes for death. Not Adam and 
his sin, but falsity, injustice, respect of persons, and all 
the rest of it, bring ruin. It is possible that no phi- 
losopher or political economist has ever put the case 
more strongly, tersely, and intelligibly than did James 
the elust. " Such and such a course, in our social life, 
leads to the pit of social destruction. A nation, be it 
Abraham's nation or another, cannot stand if it goes 
not clear of these social wrongs." That is his message. 
Yet he does not counsel to take up arms. " Do not 
the rich oppress you?" he cries to the people. We 
should look for him, then, to advise them to strike down 
the oppressor, to break the strong arm of tyranny, but 
he does not. He does not say to them that they will 
do well to rouse themselves, and combine to resist the 
rich, and destroy their property, and sweep them from 
the earth. On the contrary, he tells them that if they 
will obey the royal law, "Thou shalt love thy neigh- 
bor as thyself," they will do well. He would free 
them from the baleful influences of oppression, the 
most baleful of which is to tempt the poor to be the 
tools and sycophants of the rich. He would teach 
them not to respect persons ; but to revenge them- 
selves upon their oppressors is foreign to his mind. 
He is not a maker of revolution ; he discerns the things 
which do make it, points them out, and warns as best 
he may against them. 

One is reminded here of the attitude of Paul toward 
slavery, which at that time was nearly at its worst in 
the Roman empire. He proclaimed the brotherhood 
of man, with fidelity ; and all that is involved in that 
condition he believed in. Yet he did not counsel in- 
surrection of the slaves. He said, " Slaves, obey your 


not with eye service, as men pleasers, but 
with singleness of heart." These men, James and 
Paul, are not men of violence and passion ; they see 
that wrong brings retribution. They stand by the 
peaceable methods of Jesus. Both are reformers, but 
they do not expect to reform murder by murder, nor 
theft by theft. They will reform evil by means of 
good. " Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil 
with good," says Paul. 

Now for the most part reformers are subject to that 
kind of limitation which shuts them up to one object. 
Having found one great evil in the world, they are 
disposed to think that it is the one curse of human- 
ity ; and that if it is abolished, all will be well. The 
temperance reformer refers almost all the evils to in- 
temperance. \ To reform that out of existence will 
clear the state of the one affliction which degrades it 
in every department. " Wipe slavery from the country 
and we shall be a most happy people," was the feeling 
of the anti-slavery reformer. We have wiped out 
slavery, and still are not a supremely happy people.- 
There is something yet to be done ; slavery was but 
one form of evil. The oppression of the rich over the 
poor in ancient and modern times has been but one of 
many causes of public unhappiness and discontent. To 
change these conditions without changing from other 
evils which distress us is to fail of accomplishing 
enough. Wherefore James the Just, clearly seeing 
the line of cleavage running through the entire He- 
brew community, with accompanying respect of per- 
sons, and other mischiefs, could also see that there 
were evils of a radical sort, for which all men were 
responsible ; and if they were not put down, the social 
life would prove a dismal failure. If there should 


ever come a time when there would be no rich and 
no poor, but when abundance would smile upon every 
corner of the world, and if the pest of the unbridled 
tongue remained, we should still suffer from an intri- 
cate and all-pervading evil, which would set the world 
afire, as with the flame of hell. One can imagine how 
the soul of this just man was vexed immeasurably by 
the endless clatter and jargon of splenetic, peevish, 
slanderous tongues, — a rain of bitterness, always 
deluging society. 

Here is no theory, and no attempt to account for a 
condition, but a vivid exposure of the condition : He- 
brew society everywhere was made all but unendur- 
able by the poison of envenomed tongues. Had we a 
land flowing with milk and honey, with abundant 
springs pouring out of our mountains, and watering 
all the pastures ; had we fruit growing in tropical 
luxuriance, and every man sitting under his own vine 
and fig-tree, a pleasing prospect on every hand of 
us, and labor reduced to a mere pleasant exercise ; 
had we Paradise expanded to all portions of the hab- 
itable globe, — with the human tongue let loose to 
perform its favorite work, our Paradise would be a 
miserable failure. \ A wilderness with some govern- 
ment of the tongue in it would be preferable. We 
imagine our fellow-men of the older countries to be 
groaning under the weight of czars, sultans, kaisers, 
and all the like ; to be spied upon at every moment 
by intrusive police ; to be liable at a moment's notice, 
or without notice, to deportation from their homes to 
the wastes of Siberia ; to be shut up in prison, or set 
at hopeless work in the mines. Such evils are un- 
speakable ; but to burn all thrones from under all 
despotic rulers, and to set up some other form of 


government, or no-go vernraent, gives us no effective 
clearance of our evils. Every man and every wo- 
man, able to talk, and therefore to sweeten or embitter 
the lives of their fellow men and women, possesses the 
power to contribute to the continued reign of wretch- 

Thus the reformation contemplated by James the 
Just is one which purifies society of an evil everywhere 
prevalent, and which is not imposed by one class upon 
another. His religion is fundamentally practical, 
shunning metaphysics, and in a remarkable degree 
social. He does not denounce vague judgments against 
vague iniquities, and he does not have to ask only the 
wise to listen to him. The iniquity he chiefly speaks 
of is one from which all suffer, and in the propagation 
of which almost all are implicated ; and no one can 
possibly fail to understand what he is talking about. 
Let every person, therefore, give heed to do his per- 
sonal part, putting the bridle upon his own tongue, 
and so reduce the evil of the world. 

Nevertheless, it is evident that the conduct and 
teaching of Jesus had produced a strong feeling in the 
early church respecting wealth. Jesus had been under- 
stood to bless the poor, and to declare that it was next 
to impossible for a rich man to have part in his king- 
dom. James the Just shares this impression, and be- 
lieves the poor to be specially favored of God. Apart 
from the bitterness, he seems to have had the same 
feeling about the rich of his time that the modern 
social reformer has about the millionaires. It is for 
that reason he lays so much stress upon the coming 
revolution. It is unquestionable that wealth gained 
by injustice, by the withholding of proper wages, by 
chicanery, or by cunning, is at all times a menace to 


any society which permits it. Great wealth, such as 
we see piling itself up in enormous bulks in modern 
times, is at best a deplorable fact ; one cannot intelli- 
gently look upon it without anxiety/) 

The feeling of the early Christians is expressed in 
the Shepherd of Hermas, 1 a book which Irenaeus and 
others deemed worthy a place in the sacred canon, 
and which was publicly read in many or most of the 
churches at one period. This is a very ecclesiastical 
book, and may have contributed much to the develop- 
ment of the papacy afterward, but otherwise is of con- 
siderable merit. The writer has visions, and in one of 
them beholds six angels building a tower upon the 
water. These angels are assisted by a host of others, 
who bring them stones for the tower, and the stones 
which are thus employed are found to be exactly 
square, and to fit each other to a nicety. Some stones 
are cast far away, and it is noted that others — white, 
round stones — are left near the base of the tower. 
The writer is told that these round stones represent 
the rich, and that they cannot be built into the tower, 
which is the church, until their riches are taken away. 
Their impoverishment alone will make them also 
square stones, fit for the sacred edifice. 

Aside, however, from the prevalent feeling of the 
church concerning wealth, this is evident : that the 
Epistle of James the Just is in no wise a theological 

i ",As respects [the Shepherd of Hermas], the conservative 
Zahn remarks : ' It enjoyed alike in the West and the East all 
the rights of a Biblical book. ... As respects circulation, ac- 
knowledgment, and influence, the Shepherd surpassed, at the 
close of the second century and beginning of the third, more 
than one document which to-day belongs to the New Testa- 
ment.'" — Professor J. H. Thayer, The Change of Attitude 
towards the Bible. 


work. His religion — the religion he seeks to teach — 
is social in its reference. However mistaken in theory 
— as concerning the sin of Adam, or the passing of 
death upon all, and the position of Jesus in the rank 
of being — any one may be, if his religion has the 
social reference, that is pure religion and pleasing 
to God. Perhaps there is nothing better for our 
time, rife with just criticism upon the Christian re- 
ligion and making honest effort to do without religion 
in the reformation of the world, than the letter of 
James the Just ; for in it he tells us the thing we 
most need to know, and that is that the religion which 
is not sociological is vain ; and that all effort toward 
the uplift of our race, done in the spirit of charity, is 
religious, — and it is divinely religious.